7 Things Your Seed Packet Can Tell You

The back of every commercially bought seed packet provides a basic how-do guide for growing that particular plant. Compiled with information on lighting, sowing depth and more, this article will help you decode what all of those gardening terms mean.

Plant Name
Usually a packet will have not only the common name, but also the botanical name as well. This is helpful because one country's "squash" is another country's "pumpkin."

Picture of the Plant
This is an easy way to gauge what you can expect to grow, which is especially useful if you want to try new or exotic edibles that you may not have encountered before. It may also help you distinguish between different varieties of a single type of plant, such as pickling cucumbers and yellow cucumbers.

Plant Profile
Typically placed on the back of the seed packet, this can be a few sentances long or take up a large portion of the packaging space. It is a summary of the plant's aesthetics, whether it's edible, and its taste. This can often contain details about how easy or difficult the plant is to grow.

Size of the Plant
The sizes given are reflective of the size of the plant at full maturity. Many are in centimeters as well as inches, and indicate the height and the spread of the plant. You'll need to know this information when planning your garden and deciding whether you have enough space available to grow this particular plant.

Life Cycle
"Annual" means that the plant will live for one growing season and then die. "Perinneal" means that the plant will not need replanting every year, but will instead reseed itself and continue coming up year after year. There are rare plants that are biannuals which have a life cycle of two years.

Planting Instructions
Packets vary by how much information is supplied in this section, but all contain instructions on sowing depth (how deeply you must dig to plant the seed), spacing (how far apart each seed or plant should be spaced), watering (how much and how often), and thinning (selectively removing seedlings so stronger plants can grow) your plants. Usually this information is listed in both centimeters and inches. Contained in this section, you should also find details about when it is safe to plant the seeds outdoors or when to start the seeds indoors before transplanting outside.

Sun Requirements
If a packet says "full sun," that means the plant requires at least six hours of direct sunlight to thrive. "Partial sun" is four to six hours of sunlight, "part shade" is 2-4 hours of direct sun, and "shade" means little to no direct sunshine is ideal. Use this information when deciding where to plant your seeds and whether they'll thrive in your garden plot.

Bonus Info
Some packets will include hardiness maps, detailed instructions for how to germinate the seeds indoors, probable days until harvest and what kind of helpful insects the plant might attract. Some seed packets even provide drying instructions or recipes!

Needless to say, your seed packets are a great resource of information during all stages of gardening: planning, sowing, growing and harvesting. It can be very helpful to hang onto the packets after you are done sowing the seeds to referrence later. And if you can't use up all the seeds within a packet, most can be stored in their packets in a cool, dry place and used next season!

McLeond. Judyth Botanica’s Organic Gardening: The Healthy Way to Live. San Diego: Laurel Glen Publishing, 2002
Trail, Gayla You Grow Girl. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005