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Garden Q&A: Tis the season of seed catalogs

Q: I love growing my own veggies from seed. I see catalog season is upon us, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the array of choices. Any tips for sorting through it all and making wise decisions?

A: Perusing the flawless pictures and scrumptious descriptions, temptations abound as we dream of next year’s gardening adventures. I too can never resist combing through their pages for ideas; alas, there’s never enough room to grow it all.

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Opt for varieties of your favorite crops that have the best disease or pest resistance. Then, narrow the choices down further by looking into traits that suit your growing conditions and preferences, including time between planting and harvest and suitability for containers or small space gardens.

Catalogs and seed packets hold a treasure trove of information and should be kept for reference later in the season.
Catalogs and seed packets hold a treasure trove of information and should be kept for reference later in the season. (Fran Kittek/MORNING CALL FILE PHOTO)

If you have a tight budget or just don’t need many seeds of any one variety (especially if you just want to experiment with a variety new to you), consider trading with friends or attending a seed swap (seed exchange). National Seed Swap Day occurs annually on the last Saturday in January and meetups, often free and open to the public, are held around the country. You can also easily save seed from highly self-fertile crops like bean, pea, lettuce, and tomato if you plant open-pollinated varieties (non-hybrids).

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We have multiple Maryland Grows blog posts about seed catalogs, seed costs, starting seeds indoors, and vegetable garden planning; search “seed catalogs” to get started with an array of interconnected articles. We also have a Vegetable Planting Calendar page on our website so you can see when each crop should be sown or transplanted.

Q: What do you suggest I wear when doing gardening work? Next year I’ll finally have some outside space to play in, but I’m new to this and am not sure what factors to consider.

A: As with many things, a lot depends on your comfort level and preference for preparedness. If you are sensitive to poison ivy sap and don’t know if any is present in the yard, for instance, long sleeves are prudent. Sturdy shoes like sneakers or hiking boots are the most comfortable when digging because of the pressure on the soles of your feet; plus, they’re more stable on uneven ground.

Fabric gardening gloves are always a good idea, and not just because you may not want dirt under your fingernails or sap glued to your skin hairs. Gloves offer at least some protection from irritating plant sap, thorny stems and prickly weeds, accidental spider bites or insect stings, buried construction debris, germs in wild animal scat, and any other unexpected, injurious, or just plain gross item you’ll encounter while digging, grabbing, and reaching into spaces you can’t see.

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I like to carry a hip holster for hand pruners; they can be made from leather or fabric. Holsters keep the pruners shut and the blades shielded so you don’t cut yourself, plus lets you keep tabs on the tool so it doesn’t get lost. I’ve carried mine on a belt loop which also has a water bottle holster, since gardening can be thirsty work and this too keeps water at-the-ready.

A wide-brimmed hat is important for sun protection. I like those that have ventilation mesh for added breathability. If you wear long sleeves or use repellent for ticks, check your skin when you’re done for the day anyway since tick-borne diseases are easier to prevent than to treat after infection. Don’t assume that if you don’t see deer that you don’t have ticks in the yard.

Like any activewear, using layers and fabrics that wick moisture can help in moderating temperature changes and sweat from exertion.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Extension” to send questions and photos.

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