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Over the Garden Fence

What's in Your Garden Catalog?

January begins the annual flight of vegetable, flower and fruit tree catalogs to your mailbox. Depending on your level of gardening, the catalogs arrive frequently and in mass.

It used to be you would get either a vegetable catalog or a fruit catalog or flower catalog. Many catalogs now contain something for everyone, including the garden gadget addicts. There are catalogs offering heirloom vegetables, flowers, and fruit trees. These heirloom varieties can be some of the best tasting and or more unusual looking fruits and vegetables we get to eat. They are called heirloom since they have had no or very little traditional breeding. This can mean you will have more disease problems with them too though and often less production as well.

With all the breeding work going on, our vegetables can take on new colors that are a bit outside the lines. Consider a blue potato or perhaps the more acceptable colors of green peppers being yellow, red, purple, orange. These look great in salads and other dishes, giving a bright look to whatever you are preparing. It used to be that Swiss chard was green, now in shades of pink, orange, yellow, gold, white and purple. Newer varieties have a much more slender stalk and can be used to brighten up salads or cooked as you would use spinach. Even our small fruits like strawberries come in a variety of shades of red now. Small fruits can be other plants besides strawberries and raspberries now. Plant breeders have had good success transforming the smaller fruiting shrubs too like currants, gooseberries and aronia into very well performing plants for the home garden. You will find heirloom and new cultivars of our perennial vegetables. Rhubarb and Asparagus are great additions to the garden.

Now go looking for the gardening gadgets. If you start your own seeds, gardeners will find a source of pots, seed starting soil mixes, markers, and more. You get to start your seeds in flat, individual cell packs like you see when you buy your annual flowers, or even expanding pellets. Pots can be out of plastic or an organic fiber. Some of the accessories that make starting your own seeds easier include warming mats in sizes from one six pack to a full tray. Other items you will find include plant stands with growing lights and self-watering trays. You will also be able to pick from a variety of temporary structures for outdoor use to grow out and harden your vegetable plants before they go into the garden. There is always the hand tools each one sounding better than the one you are using. Some may be more useful and used more often than others, so choose wisely.

If your mail box is not quite full enough, go to the internet and sign up to get a few more. It is quick and easy or just wait a bit till each catalog sells their mailing list and then watch out!

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.