Deciphering a Seed Packet or Seed Catalog

Look at a seed packet or seed catalog and you're likely to see unfamiliar codes and abbreviations. Here is what they mean.

| April/May 1994

  • 143 seed packet - burpee carrot
    Once you know the lingo, a seed packet or seed catalog conveys a wealth of information about hybrid types, growing season, and disease resistence.
  • 143 seed packet - cabbage
    Make sure you enter the right code numbers on your order form or you might get cabbage when you wanted cucumber.

  • 143 seed packet - burpee carrot
  • 143 seed packet - cabbage

Like all technical specialties, seed growers/sellers have a shorthand to convey the most information in the least space. Aside from a paragraph or two describing the variety and its growth habits, the printing on a seed packet or in a seed catalog  comprises cryptic codes and terms that may leave you in the dark. The following is a seed-packet lingo legend:

Stock Numbers come out of the order-taker's computer and are crucial; get one wrong on a mail-order form and you can end up with a packet of Heliocanthus when you expected Head Lettuce.

Varietal Names, especially the older ones, can vary among suppliers and their section of the country. The low evergreen ground cover with small blue flowers called periwinkle in one locale is Vinca Minor or "vinca" in another, Ground-Myrtle or "myrtle" elsewhere.

With new varieties, it's best to buy from the firm that tells you on the packet or in catalog copy that they developed or import the seeds. They will use the correct name and reserve the best seed if there is a quality choice.

Hybrid plants (Hb) (F1) or (F2) are bred from two or more different parent stocks, with traits that improve on the best characteristics of both strains, but they are unable to pass them on—like a mule can't heir its kick.

Don't save hybrid seed and plant it; you'll get an atavistic throwback with the worst characteristics of some half-wild great-grandparent. Open-pollinated (OP) seed will grow true to type. Reserve seed Reselected variety that does best in your soil and climate. Genetics of sweet corn is often indicated by an (S), which means it is a glucose-containing, eating variety rather than field corn. (Se) is an extra-sweet hybrid; (Sh2) is a super-sweet hybrid that must self-pollinate ...which means they must be planted upwind of and some distance from other corn varieties to develop the sugary trait.


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