As seed catalogs arrive, I cannot wait to look through them. Even advertisements online catch my attention. What should I plant?

What do all the letters and codes mean? What varieties of my favorite vegetables and flowers should I select? Do disease resistances matter?

Using the catalog keys and understanding terms in the information provided for each variety reveals secrets about the plant.

The term “days to maturity” indicates the average number of days to expect to start harvesting the crop. Pay attention to see if this refers to the length of time starting from planting seed or planting transplants.

The actual harvest date is impacted by weather and growing conditions. Earlier maturing varieties are useful for early harvest in the spring and for fall harvest when the growing season is shorter.

When considering managing plant diseases, look for the terms “tolerant” or “resistant.” Tolerant means the plant will endure the disease while still producing a crop.

Resistance means the plant has the natural ability to prevent or slow disease development and still produce vegetables.

With disease resistance, the need for organic or synthetic chemical management is reduced or may be eliminated.

Examples of disease resistance to look for in tomatoes are for verticillium, often represented by a V, and fusarium, represented by an F. These two soil-borne diseases are only managed by disease resistance.

You may see a number after these letters. This indicates the disease resistance is against a specific race of the same organism which causes the disease.

Look for disease resistance to what is common in the area. Early blight is the most common disease of tomatoes. Cultivars of cherry tomatoes with some resistance to early blight are “Jasper,” “Mountain Magic,” and Sungold (yellow).

Slicing-size tomatoes with resistance to this disease are “Mountain Fresh Plus,” “Mountain Merit,” and “Stellar.” Check the description of the tomatoes to see if they carry this resistance.

Other codes in the catalog are “F1” and “OP.” F1 is the first generation resulting from the cross pollination of two specific parents. This hybrid cross results in offspring that are uniform and vigorous. In addition, breeders use this method to naturally obtain resistance to certain diseases.

If seeds from the F1 hybrids are saved and planted, you will not have the same variety characteristics as what was planted the first year.

On the other hand, the code OP stands for open pollinated. Seeds collected from these plants come “true” for that variety when planted again.

Another symbol to look for is a circle with AAS and Winner in a red banner. These varieties were tested for performance across the United States. The winners have different desirable characteristics compared to other varieties within the same crop.

Descriptions of the plant may indicate its size. “Patio” often means it takes less space to grow and may be suitable for containers.

If growing vegetables in containers or raised beds, often the plant description will indicate the best varieties for these growing methods.

You can find at least one variety of tomato, green beans, and sweet corn bred for growing in containers.

Pumpkins grow long vines and take a lot of room in a garden. Consider growing a bush type of pumpkin which usually has smaller fruit. However, consider the actual size of the plant written in the description. The bush pumpkin may still be too big for your space.

Seed catalogs and websites indicate the number of seeds per package offered for sale. To avoid buying too much, make a quick sketch of your garden space. Plan how many rows of certain vegetables you want to grow. Then look at the required spacing between each vegetable plant. When planting seeds, the plants are thinned to a final spacing because not all of the seeds will germinate.

For example, summer squash is planted with three seeds to a hill spaced 4 feet apart. After the seeds germinate, remove one of the plants to allow enough space for the other two plants to grow.

Bush type green beans or snap beans seeds are planted 2 to 3 inches apart and thinned according to the variety as listed on the package or catalog. Usually about a pound of bush snap bean seed is needed to plant 100 feet of row.

If you have seeds left over, share them with a friend or store them in a cool dry location or in the refrigerator in a jar.

Two other terms seen describing the growth habit of tomatoes are “determinate” and “indeterminate.” Determinate means the plant will reach a specific size and then stop growing. The tomatoes will ripen at about the same time.

These plants fit in smaller spaces. Indeterminate means that the plant continues to grow. Both growth types need staking or caging since it is best to keep the tomato fruit off the ground. However, indeterminate types need a bigger support system. The benefit is having a continuous harvest until frost or disease kills the plant.

“Treated seeds” indicates that a fungicide or insecticide is put on the seeds. This helps the seed grow without rotting from a soil-borne disease or prevents insects from destroying the seed. Often the seed protectant material has a color, such as pink or green, so you know it is treated.

For more information about understanding seed descriptions, contact the Daviess County Cooperative Extension Service at 270-685-8480 or

Annette’s TipInformation about other disease resistant varieties can be found at

Upcoming EventThe “Planning Your Vegetable Garden by Looking Back and Forward” virtual program is scheduled for Jan. 25 at 2 p.m. through the Daviess County Public Library’s Facebook page at

Annette Meyer Heisdorffer is the Daviess County extension agent for horticulture. Her column runs weekly on the Home & Garden page in Lifestyle. Email her at


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