Seed Catalogs | Reviews and comments

Donna Palmer

As I pick up winter debris from the garden and the soggy ground crushes under my boots, I dream of my spring garden. Winter vegetables sown in December like wet, overcast weather, and the bare-root season is in full swing. In January, I look forward to the colorful seed catalogs that will arrive in the mail.

Truth be told, there is no perfect seed catalog and many of them are available online, but I love the color and the promise of a pocket seed catalog in my hands. At some point in the next two months I will be starting herb/veg seeds for spring and it’s fun to see what’s available for the new year. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are a few of my favorites (paperback and online) in alphabetical order:

Annie’s annuals and perennials

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed

Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Peaceful Valley Organic Seeds

Each seed catalog is slightly different from the others, but they all have some commonalities. There will usually be a key to describe its use of icons and terminology. Catalogs should be sorted by cold/warm season or vegetables/herbs/ornaments.

Some catalogs contain planting guides and care information and many contain company/farm presentations. The best ones are fun to read and easy to use. And the pictures are great!

Here are some useful terms often used by seed catalogs:

Cultivar: A plant variation resulting from the intentional crossing of plants.

Germination Guarantee: The seed company promising a percentage of the seeds in the package should germinate within the time stated on the package.

Legacy: Seeds harvested from plants that have grown true to their original characteristics for at least 50 years, generation after generation, and documented. The plants must have been naturally pollinated (open pollinated).

Hybrid: a plant (F1) born from the cross-pollination of two parent plants with characteristics selected from both, sought for its vigor or disease resistance, not for seed saving. His offspring will not be true to type.

Non-GMO: non-genetically modified organisms — seeds whose genetic material has not been manipulated to improve yield or alter the characteristics of the plant.

Open pollination: seeds pollinated by birds or insects or by the wind.

Organic: seeds and plants that have been grown in accordance with FDA certification program requirements.

True to type: plants that exhibit the characteristics of the parent plant.

Variety: a variation of the plant species that occurred naturally in the field; not intentionally cross-pollinated. This term is often used to simply mean a “variation” of a plant, for example, scented geraniums as a variety of geranium.

When choosing vegetable and herb seeds, simply choose the appropriate season. Be sure to choose ornamentals appropriate for our USDA hardiness zone 10a as they will last longer. Take advantage of the catalogs!

Donna Palmer is a San Bernardino County Master Gardener (Class of 2021) who lives and gardens in Chino Hills. The Master Gardeners at the University of California San Bernardino County Cooperative Extension offers a free helpline to answer your gardening and landscaping questions: Visit for a list of upcoming courses and events.