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How to Read a Seed Packet

Seed packets

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Seed packets and seed catalogs can help you decide which crops and varieties to grow in your garden. The front of a seed packet or a seed catalog entry will picture the plant at maturity. The back of the packet will describe the plant and where it will grow.

Here are common seed packet and catalog descriptors explained:

• Days-to-maturity: This number is the average number of days from seed sowing to harvest. But for crops that require a log season—such as tomatoes and peppers—this number is calculated from the day of transplanting, not sowing. Days-to-maturity will help you estimate when the crop should be harvested. Days-to-maturity is an estimate given nearly ideal growing conditions; the number can be affected by poor weather during the growing season.

• F1 and OP: F1 indicates the plant is a hybrid. OP means the plant is open-pollinated. F1 varieties are first-generation hybrids, the offspring of two genetically pure parents. A hybrid plant may have been bred to be disease resistant or for high production or uniformity. Commonly, the qualities of a hybrid last just one generation and the seed from a hybrid plant will not grow true to its parents. Open-pollinated indicates the plant is genetically stable, which means the seed was collected from plants that were the same as their parents. Seeds from open-pollinated plants can be saved year after year and planted to grow a plant just like its parents.

• Disease resistant: Disease resistance may be described or it may be identified by letters or numbers in parentheses. (V) represents a plant resistant to verticillium wilt, (F) means resistant to fusarium wilt, (N) means resistant to nematodes, (TMV) means resistant to tobacco mosaic virus.

• Full sun or Part Shade: Full sun means the plant will grow best where there is no shade during any part of the day. Part Shade means the plant will grow in filtered sunlight, like the light that passes through tree branches—not absolute shade.

• Zone: Zone numbers indicate USDA growing zones (1-11) best suited for the plant. Find out which USDA zone you live in. Plant varieties best suited for your zone.

For more information on seeds, click on these related articles:

Heirloom and Hybrid Tomatoes and Vegetables Explained

How Vegetable are Pollinated: Open Pollination and Hybrids

Common Vegetable Garden Problems

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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