Garden catalogs began to show up in early January and will continue for the few weeks. Each picture looks better than the next and promises to be bigger, better, than last year. There may be plenty of phrases or words that are unfamiliar or perhaps you have seen them before and never went far enough to find out what they mean. Vegetable descriptions will often include a number of initials at the end. These usually signify that the vegetable has been bred with disease resistance or tolerance to a disease specific to that variety. A tomato for example may have several initials V, F, N, TMV for resistance to Verticillium and Fusarium wilt, Nematode resistance and Tobacco Mosaic Virus.
Another term frequently used to promote a variety is the designation F1. This means that this variety is a first generation cross and contains the best genes from both the male and female parent plants. An F1 hybrid can be a better performer, providing a higher yield, be more disease resistance or tolerance than either of the parents. Vegetables, just like flowers can also have the AAS designation. The All-America Selection designation signifies that this variety has performed to a high set of standards to ensure it will perform in your yard. Testing and Evaluation occur in a number of locations throughout the United States so you can be comfortable knowing that you can purchase the seed or a transplant at the Garden Center and have a quality plant.
Trending right now are the heirloom, antique or open pollenated vegetables. These vegetables can provide fruit with a lot of visual character and when eaten, different texture and flavor. If you already have problems in the garden with diseases and in particular the soil borne diseases, it is best to stick with the hybrids since you cannot treat for these diseases and save your plants. If you are a mainly flower gardener, similar terminology exists for perennials. If Phlox is on your shopping list, see if you can find one that indicates a resistance to powdery mildew. If roses are your thing, then look for resistance to black spot and powdery mildew. If you are shopping for dwarf apple trees, apple scab and cedar apple rust are two diseases you would want resistance to.
Starting this early allows you to plan the garden, figure out the varieties you will need to order from the catalogs and what will be at your favorite garden center. Planning ahead also allows for choosing those varieties that will fit in the space you have, especially the vegetable garden. The catalogs will again help you with additional information. Vine crops will be listed as a "bush type" meaning the plant will not vine out but rather stay compact. Tomato plants can be either indeterminate or determinate types. Determinate varieties limit their size while still producing tomatoes, while indeterminate varieties will just continue to grow in size while producing fruits all summer as well. By understanding the descriptions in any catalog, you get to make the best selection possible for your garden.
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.