PhotoThis is it, this is the month that all the seed catalogs come out and try to warm your heart by letting you know that spring is right around the corner. Of course we hope it is right around the corner, it's a little difficult to imagine when it's 27 degrees outside with a wind chill of 10.

This whole idea of enticing you into spring is nothing new. According to the Special Collections & Archives Research Center at Oregon State University, nurserymen, seedsmen and botanists from the late sixteenth to eighteenth centuries published gardening books, pamphlets, and gardeners’ calendars that listed seeds or plants for sale. Over the years, these lists became more ornate, morphing into the colorful catalogs we get today.

Some suggestions when buying from a catalog:

Be sure to decide how much variety you are really after. You can get small packets of individual plants that don't cost very much, but also don't give you much variety. If variety is what you are really after you can purchase a seed mixture packet which will give you many types of plants but it will usually cost much more.

It's probably a good idea to look for seed packets that grow best in the area where you live. What may thrive in Arizona could easily have trouble sprouting in Minnesota no matter how much you water it.

Don't throw away the catalogs. Find a place to store them because they can be used as a reference guide and give you information about taking care of certain plants.

Shop the catalogs and find the best deals. You could save enough to buy more pots, plants and gardening tools by making sure you get the best deal on seeds.

Don't think that everything you read in the catalog is exactly right. Like cooking a little of this and a little of that can make something better, most times the growth and maturity timing they give for a plant is just an estimate not an exact date.

Look for All America selections, they are a bit hardier and will grow in a vast array of conditions.

When you order your seeds make it clear you want untreated seeds. They don't have any chemicals or fungicide on them.

What "new" means

Carol Prybell is a member of the Porter County Master Gardeners Association in Valparaiso, Indiana, and she says use caution when seeing the word “new” in gardening catalogs.

“This can mean one of two things…the offering is new to this company but has been around for a while or the offering is new to the market,” she says. “A simple Google search of the plants botanical name will give you a good idea of which 'new' you’re dealing with.”

As enticing as the idea of a beautiful plant new to the market is, Prybell offers two words of advice — stay away.

According to Mother Earth News, 70% of gardeners use catalogs to buy their seeds. There are other options though. You pick up packets at retail stores and even big-box stores now carry organic and heirloom seeds, or you can look for more specialized selections at garden centers and health food stores.

Don't forget -- gourmet shops as well as food co-ops and independently owned health food stores often have displays from regional seed companies.

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