A beginner's guide to reading a seed packet

Mar 31, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. ET
Image: Debbie Wolfe

Growing plants directly from seed is cost efficient and gives you complete control of the entire growing process. But all the information packed on such a tiny envelope can be confusing. Let's demystify the seed packet.

Seed companies have very little space to convey a lot of information on how to grow the plant, so they use a type of short hand to put all the necessary information on every packet of seed. Every seed packet contains a wealth of information about the plant, although the placement of the information will vary from vendor to vendor.

Plant name

seed packet

At the top of every seed packet you will have the plant's common name and its botanical name. It's good to know the botanical name so you can be sure that it's the correct variety your are looking for. It's labeled as genus (the first word, capitalized) followed by species and sometimes a variety or cultivar name.

Plant description

Seed packet

  • This area will tell you whether the plant is an annual (a plant that lives for one growing season), biennial (one that lives for 2 years) or perennial (one that comes back every year).
  • It will also give you a basic description of the plant's character and how long it takes until you can harvest.

Detailed plant information

seed packet

The back of the seed packet contains all the nitty-gritty information about how to grow the plant. Here you should find the following information:

  • When to start the seeds.
  • Whether to start them indoors or directly in the garden.
  • Whether to plant in sun or shade.
  • How often to water.
  • When to fertilize.
  • The expiration date (yes, seeds expire).

How to plant

seed packet

Some seed packets will have a "label" you can cut out and place on a tag to help you remember the basic growing information on your plant. This section will tell you:

  • How long it takes the seed to germinate or emerge once planted.
  • How deep in the soil you need to plant the seed.
  • How many seeds you should place in each hole.
  • How far each row of seeds need to be spaced.
  • When to thin the seedlings and how far apart to thin.

When to plant and how to harvest

seed packet

Here is where you will be given detailed information about the character of the plant.

  • Some vendors will give you some cooking suggestions(if it is an edible) or planting combinations suggestions.
  • They will also give your an estimate of how much one seed packet will cover in your garden.
  • You will also be given a recommendation on when to direct sow the seeds or if you should start the plant indoors or not.

These are the basics of reading a seed packet. Familiarizing yourself on how to plant your seeds will ensure success in your garden. So, before you start planting, make sure you give your seed packets a good read through.

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