Tips for decoding seed packets, catalogues

If you’re buying seeds for your summer garden, we have some helpful tips for decoding seed packets or catalogues. You’ve probably seen terms like “cultivar” or “pelleted” but what do they mean? We’ve got answers.

  • Cultivar: Short for “cultivated variety.” Cultivated by people, for example hybrids bred by horticulturists. Seeds are not true-to-type.
  • Variety: A group of plants within a species that has one or more distinguishing characteristics and usually produces true-to-seed.
  • Heirloom: Open pollinated varieties that are 50-or-so years old.
  • Hybrid: Created through cross-pollination between two varieties of the same genus and species.
  • Organic: Produced on a farm that has been certified organic through USDA’s National Organic Program.
  • Pelleted: “Pelleted” seeds have been encased in a layer of clay (or other material) to make very small seeds (like lettuce or carrot) larger and easier to sow.
  • Treated/Untreated: Seeds labeled “treated” have been coated with a fungicide or other product to help protect germinating seed from pathogens. Check the packet or website/catalogue for information on exactly what they have been treated with. Treated seeds are more common for commercial agriculture than for home gardeners.
  • Days to harvest: May appear on the front or back of the packet. For seeds sown directly in the ground, that means days from seeding to maturity. For those started inside, the days start from the time of transplanting outside.

For more on propagating plants from seeds, go to:…/426/426-001/426-001.pdf