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Down the Garden Path: What is in your catalog?

Richard Hentschel
Richard Hentschel

Garden catalogs began to show up in early January and will continue for the few weeks.

Each picture looks better than the next and promises to be bigger, better, than last year. There may be plenty of phrases or words that are unfamiliar, or perhaps you have seen them before and never went far enough to find out what they mean.

Vegetable descriptions will often include a number of initials at the end. These usually signify that the vegetable has been bred with disease resistance or tolerance to a disease specific to that variety. A tomato, for example, may have initials V, F, N, TMV for resistance to Verticillium and Fusarium wilt, Nematode resistance and Tobacco Mosaic Virus.

Another term frequently used is the designation F1. This means that this variety is a first-generation cross and contains the best genes from both the male and female parent plants. An F1 hybrid can be a better performer, provide a higher yield, and have more disease resistance or tolerance than either of the parents.

Vegetables, just like flowers, can also have the AAS designation. The All-America Selection designation signifies that this variety has performed to a high set of standards to ensure it will perform in your yard. Testing and evaluation occur in a number of locations throughout the United States, so you can be comfortable knowing that you can purchase the seed or a transplant at the garden center and have a quality plant.

Trending right now are the heirloom, antique or open pollinated vegetables. These vegetables can provide fruit with a lot of visual character and, when eaten, different texture and flavor. If you already have problems in the garden with diseases, and in particular the soil-borne diseases, it is best to stick with the hybrids since you cannot treat for these diseases and save your plants.

If you are a mainly flower gardener, similar terminology exists for perennials. If Phlox is on your shopping list, see if you can find one that indicates a resistance to powdery mildew. If roses are your thing, then look for resistance to black spot and powdery mildew. If you are shopping for dwarf apple trees, apple scab and cedar apple rust are two diseases you would want resistance to.

Starting this early allows you to plan the garden, figure out the varieties you will need to order from the catalogs and what will be at your favorite garden center. Planning ahead also allows for choosing those varieties that will fit in the space you have, especially the vegetable garden. The catalogs will again help you with additional information. Vine crops will be listed as a “bush type” meaning the plant will not vine out but rather stay compact. Tomato plants can be either indeterminate or determinate types. Determinate varieties limit their size while still producing tomatoes, while indeterminate varieties will just continue to grow in size while producing fruits all summer as well. By understanding the descriptions in any catalog, you get to make the best selection possible for your garden.

One last note while seeds are on the brain. The Kendall County Master Gardeners will host a free community Seed Swap event from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2, at the University of Illinois Extension office in Yorkville. To learn more, visit go.illinois.edu/kenMGseedswap.

• Richard Hentschel is a horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties.

Get more garden and yard updates with This Week in the Garden videos at facebook.com/extensiondkk/videos and the Green Side Up podcast at go.illinois.edu/greensideup.

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