How to read a Seed packet


How to Read a Seed Packet

…A post with the beginner in mind

When I started my first garden, I started completely from scratch with very little background knowledge at all.  I purchased seeds at the local hardware store, not really knowing what varieties to choose and why, not really knowing if the time was right for what crop, and whether or not certain things would grow in my area. 

DisclaimerI had seen the tiny writing on the back of the seed packets, but it made little sense to me.  Very little sense at all.  I needed someone to sit down and explain all of this to me, but those gardening websites took for granted that I knew this basic information.

So. If you are a gardening newbie, and this season is your very first, perhaps you are in the same boat.  If so, then this very basic post is for you.

As you begin to develop and purchase your seed collection you will notice that different companies have a different format, some have more tips than others but the general info is essentially the same. 

Most of the important stuff will be found on the back, but let’s briefly talk about the front. 

Typically you will have the crop: “lettuce”; followed by the variety: “Ice Queen”.  It is good to pay attention to varieties as some will do better than others.  If you are just getting started I recommend that you stick with those varieties recommended specifically for your area and your zone.  If you don’t know which to choose, contact your county extension office for advice.

Now to the back.

 seed depth or planting depth

Planting depth refers to the depth at which the seed is planted.  While you don’t need to take out a ruler and use for planting each seed, it does help to stick it in the ground to give a visual sense of 1/4″, 1/2″ or whatever.   A general rule of thumb to keep in mind: planting depth is usually 4x the size of the seed.small bird

Row spacing

Spacing is important to allow for proper air flow, which reduces the risk of disease and allows for proper root development.  Row spacing refers to the amount of space between the rows, seed spacing refers to the amount of  space between the seeds.  For example, I have a packet of  cress seeds that require 1/2″ between them.  When I sow them however, I will sow a solid line.  When they sprout and get to be about 1″ or 2″ tall, I will thin them to the proper spacing. 

Days to Germination

The amount of time it takes for the sprout to break through the soil.  If you don’t see anything after the recommended time period, don’t sweat it.  It may take a few days more or less.  The 20-30 days; 60 days; 120 days  refer to the amount of time needed from planting to harvest.  This will help you plan your gardening season and decide which plants to start indoors and which can be sown directly.  Again, this is a recommended time period.  A lot will depend on your climate and growing conditions. 

Germination Temperature

This refers to the soil temp for proper germination.  Confession:  I am a very laid back “hands off” type of gardener.  I don’t measure the temperature of my soil.  I merely look to see what the crop prefers: a cooler or warmer temperature.  An exception is tomatoes which are germinated on a heat mat; but again, I just make sure the mat is warm.  I don’t use a thermometer.

Packaging Date

Season for which the seed was sold.  Since you may have leftover seed after planting, this will help determine viability in the years to come.


Further tips and information will include:

  • Whether or not the seeds can be started indoors and how; usually under grow lights.
  • When the seeds can be started outdoors,how long  before or how long  after the last hard frost.  If you do not know your last hard frost date, contact your county extension office.
  • Growing tips such as level of moisture in the soil, amount of sun needed, how and when to thin your seedlings.
  • Fertilization tips, some crops require more than others.  Some need a boost at the beginning of their growth cycle and then like to be left alone, some like a gentle feeding throughout the season.  Tip: it is possible to overfertilize and kill your plants.  While it is tempting to get happy with the fertilizer based on beautiful green growth, it can do more harm than good.  This is my fertilizer of choice and I use it periodically in very diluted amounts.
  • Average seed life: If properly cared for this is how long your seeds will last.

Are you new to gardening this year? What crops are you planning on growing?

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How to read a Seed packet — 8 Comments

  1. Pingback: 10 Easy Steps to Grow Your Own FoodMelissa K. Norris

  2. Great information! Been gardening for years and I have to admit I don’t always read the backs of those seed packets!

  3. If I have a seedlings which were started in pots but then trasplant them ia it normal for that to extend the time until harvest?

    • Hi Sara, I’m not completely sure I understand your question but transplants don’t necessarily extend the harvest as much as they would give you a head start on the season. Starting seeds (such as lettuce or squash) indoors and then setting them out with give you produce more quickly than if the seed was planted directly in the garden; but the time to harvest is still pretty much the same. Does that answer your question?

  4. Pingback: 10 Easy Steps to Grow Your Own Food