Before you buy any seeds, consider the pros and cons of both seed catalogs and display racks in stores. Most catalogs offer you a wider selection than store racks, but when you buy from a store, you can plant the seeds right away.
New varieties and hybrids are constantly being developed. In selecting your seeds, don’t be so stubbornly loyal to the familiar kinds that you deprive yourself of the improvements plant breeders develop in new hybrids, particularly disease resistance. Well-known varieties aren’t necessarily the best. A good example is ‘Stringless Green Pod’ bean, a variety that is about 100 years old. It is susceptible to a number of diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, and fungi and is only moderately productive. Yet gardeners continue to plant it, perhaps because of its familiar name.
Ready-made mixtures containing blends of several varieties of one vegetable offer an interesting way to try different varieties. For example, lettuce seed blends can give you an assortment of leaf colors and shapes for salads. Radish blends contain seeds of white, red, and red-white combinations. Sweet corn seed mixtures should be planted only when you have space for a sizable block because the differences in maturity dates can result in sparse pollination in small plots.Seed racks in retail stores are a convenient source of better-known vegetable varieties, but they rarely offer unusual varieties or new hybrid seeds.
Displays usually contain the varieties that are known to perform dependably in your area. Yet they may include some popular but poorly adapted varieties. If you are in doubt about the varieties you have selected, ask a knowledgeable salesperson to review your choices before ringing up the sale.
Federal and state seed laws require the seeds you buy from racks to meet minimum germination standards. Racks of fresh seeds are usually put up in early spring and removed in late summer, except in California, Arizona, Florida, and Gulf Coast areas, where seeds are on sale year round and packages are replaced twice yearly.
Buy only what you can use in one season and check the seed packages for expiration dates. Many seeds, such as onions and parsnips, are short lived. Shop for seeds as soon as the fresh seed racks appear in the stores, because the first warm weekend brings a buying rush that will deplete the selection of varieties. Displays in larger stores, however, are frequently restocked.