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Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort

Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog

Seed Catalog Lingo


Now is the time of year when we prepare our seed catalog orders for spring. Seed catalogs can tell you a lot, provided you understand the "lingo". Greg Stack, Retired Horticulture Extension Educator, provided the following information before he retired to help people better understand the lingo of plant seed catalogs, such as F1 hybrids, determinate and indeterminate, monoecious, gynoecious, gynoecious hybrids, and letters like Vt, EB, Al, F1, or TMV.

Many of the newer seed offerings are designated as F1 hybrids. While they may cost a little more, these seeds are the culmination of the plant breeder's work to create something with better garden performance, disease resistance, uniformity, and outstanding flower or fruit production.

"F1 hybrids are the result of specific crosses, which means that seed saved from these plants at the end of the season will result in something totally different if planted next season," Stack notes. "The resulting plants will not be anywhere near as desirable."

Tomato growers will see references to "determinate" and "indeterminate" varieties. The determinate types tend to be shorter, more compact plants. The branches end in flower clusters, creating a shorter plant. These are great for small space gardens, container gardens, or for those who don't like to do much staking. Indeterminate types get tall and often need staking or caging to keep them upright and off the ground. The ends of the stems do not end in flower clusters and just keep getting longer and longer.

"Monoecious" and "gynoecious" are terms in the garden's "sex" story. It takes male and female flowers to make things like cucumbers, melons, squash, and pumpkins. These plants often have separate male and female flowers on the same vine. They are monoecious.

"But breeders have developed all-female flower-producing plants such as cucumbers," says Stack. "These are called gynoecious, creating the potential for more fruit in a smaller space. Packed with the seeds of gynoecious cucumber seeds are a few seeds dyed pink or blue that will produce male and female flowers. Make sure you plant a few of these in a row of your gynoecious hybrids and your pollination problems will be solved."

And what about the "alphabet soup" of the garden? "When shopping for tomatoes, you may see letters following a variety name," Stack says. "Letters such as 'Vt,' 'EB,' 'A1,' 'F1,' or 'TMV' refer to the varieties' ability to have resistance or tolerance to disease and the more letters the better.

"Plant breeders try to breed in resistance to common disease. This limits or eliminates fungicide sprays and assures you of a more productive harvest. Vt refers to verticillium wilt (soil borne disease), EB refers to early blight (leaf disease), F1 refers to fusarium wilt race 1 (soil borne disease), and TMV refers to tobacco mosaic virus (viral disease)."



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