Alicia DeVore

When I was learning a second language in college, many times I would look at an assignment that had all new vocabulary and feel overwhelmed because it just didn’t make any sense. As I progressed through classes and eventually went to study abroad in Costa Rica, I was able to remember, recall, and decipher new vocabulary because of what I put into practice early in those first Spanish classes.

The same goes for learning how to read seed packets. Looking at the back of a seed packet it can be difficult to know what information is important and what information will not help you for your next gardening season.

In this blog post, I want to make reading packets easier by sharing what is important to understand and use and what information is not necessary. Maximize your harvest with 5 expert tips on decoding seed packets.

Seed Packets: An Essential for Gardening

Packets are a vital component of any gardener’s toolkit. They contain the seeds necessary for growing your desired plants and vegetables. Packets come in different shapes, sizes, and colors, but all contain essential information that can make or break your harvest.

Interpreting the information on the back of a seed packet is vital in getting the most out of your garden. Let’s take a look at the 5 expert tips to help make it easier to be successful. It can be confusing reading a seed packet and then knowing what to do with that information!

Let’s take the right clues or tips to give your garden a successful start in growing.

Tip #1: Optimal Temperature on Vegetable Seeds Selection

Most packets have a temperature range printed on them, indicating the ideal soil temperature for successful germination. It’s crucial to understand this information before planting your seeds as different species of plants thrive in varying temperatures.

For instance, cool-season crops like peas and lettuce prefer colder soil to germinate while warm-season crops such as tomatoes and peppers require warmer soil for germination.

Not only do you need to find on the packet when the plant would thrive, but you also need to make sure that the germination rate for the plant will also fit in the timeline for the season you want to plant in.

ideal temperature

For instance, I want to plant tomatoes in my very late summer side garden. The seed packet for the tomato seeds I have says the ideal temperature is between 75-95 degrees. Then in the planting instructions, it says to start indoors 6-10 weeks before planting outside in the garden.

I need to start these tomato seeds indoors by mid-March to give them 10 weeks of growing time before adding them to my garden at the right temperature. It does not get to 75 degrees until May in my area this winter and I want my tomatoes ready to plant in the fall with the right timing of the temperature.

To learn more about growing a garden easily, check out this blog post.

Tip #2: Temperature’s Effect on Seed Choice

Packets also provide information about the plant type, growth habits, and maturity time. This is essential in planning your garden to ensure that plants with similar growing requirements are planted together.

For instance, tall plants may require staking or support, whereas bushy plants may need more space to spread out.

When I plant the tomatoes, I am going to look at the seed packet to know what amount of sun it requires to grow and if the frost will or will not damage it. The seed packet for the tomato plant says that this tomato plant likes 8-12 hours of sun and does not like to be in frost.

how much sun and frost

With this information, I know that frost happens in my area in the fall and late summer at the beginning of November and I can plant other things in that same area that will enjoy the cooler temperatures, but my tomato plants will not survive the cold and the less exposure to the sun.

Other vegetable seeds, can be directly sown into the soil outside and will be in the optimal environment to grow without being planted indoors, like carrots. A package of carrot seeds says that it likes the temperature to be between 50-75 degrees, but it can handle being in the frost and only needs 6-8 hours of sun.

I can plant such seeds directly in the ground 6-8 weeks before the first frost and these small seeds will have no problem growing all through winter. I can get this basic information about the temperature and frost on the back of most vegetable seeds.

Tip #3: Decoding Seed Packet: Planting & Care

The back of a seed packet contains crucial information about planting depth, spacing, and care instructions. Planting seeds at the correct depth is crucial for proper germination and growth.

Additionally, the care instructions on a seed packet will help guide you through the necessary steps to keep your plants healthy and thriving. This includes watering frequency, fertilization needs, and any specific pest or disease management strategies.

Looking at the tomato and seed size packet again, it is very clear that the seed depth is 1/8 inch for initial germination. That means if I plant the seed size deeper, the seed will struggle to find the light it needs to continue germinating.

seed depth

Using this information, I can ensure that my vegetable seeds are getting the proper care and attention they need to reach their full potential. For example, if a seed packet recommends frequent watering, I know to adjust my irrigation system accordingly or hand-water more often.

The back of seed packets often provides recommendations for plant spacing. However, I don’t strictly adhere to these guidelines. Instead, I prefer to utilize the square foot or intensive gardening method, where plants are positioned closely together.

This approach allows me to maximize my garden’s productivity by efficiently utilizing all available space and implementing succession planting. Essentially, this means I fill any unused areas with new plantings, ensuring a continuous harvest throughout the growing season.

Here is a more detailed explanation of why planting things closer than the packets recommend is beneficial:

  1. Maximized Space: This method allows gardeners to grow more in less space, making it ideal for those with small garden areas or even balconies.

  2. Reduced Weeds: With plants growing closely together, there’s less space for weeds to grow, reducing the time and effort needed for weeding.

  3. Efficient Water Usage: The proximity of plants helps maintain soil moisture, reducing the amount of water needed and supporting sustainable gardening practices.

  4. Less Soil Erosion: The dense planting pattern minimizes soil exposure to elements, therefore reducing soil erosion.

  5. Improved Crop Rotation: Square foot gardening makes it easier to rotate crops, improving soil health and preventing disease and pest cycles.

  6. High Yields: Despite the small space, this method often results in high yields due to the efficient use of space and resources.

  7. Accessibility: Raised beds often used in square-foot gardening make it easier for people of all ages and abilities to garden, as they can be designed at a comfortable height for access.

Many packets use the spacing from farmers, and gardens where the same crop was grown in rows. By planting different types of plants in the same area and growing plants closer, the benefits are many. Go to these articles to understand more about growing your garden with a square foot method or intensive planting style.

seeds from bakers rare seeds

Tip #4: Optimizing Garden Layout with Seed Packets

Packets can also be used to plan your garden layout for optimal growth and yield. By noting the plant’s height, and spread, you can design an efficient planting scheme that maximizes space while ensuring each plant receives enough light and nutrients. Check out this article to help you maximize your garden space, even in small spaces.

Many packets do not give these types of specifications. Researching or finding reliable sources to help you find the personality and growing type of each plant will help you understand what to expect from that plant in your garden.

more seed packet info

Taking the example of the tomato seed packet, the top information that they give about this plant is vital in understanding future needs. This tomato is indeterminate which means it will need a sturdy support to grow tall, as tall as 6-10 feet support. Being indeterminate, this particular tomato will grow and produce continuously. I need to be ready to harvest every few days. To learn more about growing tomatoes, check out this blog post.

Using this information, I can plan my garden layout with taller plants in the back or along a fence or tree for support, and shorter plants in front to avoid shading. I’m going to put this tomato plant on an arch and train it to wrap around the arch to make it easy to harvest and beautiful to look at. Knowing the growing habits is helping me to create a dream garden that I want to be in and harvest from.

To find out more about how to add an arch or trellis to your garden, check out this blog post for great ideas.

Tip #5: Storing Seed Packets for Future Use & Information

It’s always a good idea to save your packets for future reference and to keep track of the different varieties you have grown. After using all the seeds, add notes to the packets of what you noticed when growing the seeds into plants.

Take notes of how this type of plant did in your garden, for instance, did it do well in the location you placed it in? Were there specific insects that destroyed it or that it attracted that were good for your garden?

seeds on a table

Keeping this information up to date right on the packets, using a marker or sticky notes will help you plan more effectively for the next season.

And you won’t be saying to yourself, what did I plant that I loved? What did I plant that I never want to plant again? Don’t throw the packets away after the planting. Save and use as documentation.

To find out how to effectively order your seeds for the next season, follow these tips HERE.

Preserving Seed Packets for Future Use

In addition to the tips mentioned, there are many other benefits to carefully reading the information on your packets. By understanding the temperature impacts, plant types and growth habits, and planting depths, and using them for garden layout planning and future reference, you can increase your chances of a successful harvest.

tomatoes to grow

Usually on the packets, it will give you the amount of seeds in the packet, when it was packed, and when they need to sell by. Do not worry about the expiration date of seeds. Germination will be less with every year, but seeds when stored in cool, dark areas away from moisture, can last for long periods. Safe seed storage keeps production higher. Here’s more on storing seeds and HERE too.

This not only saves time and effort but also ensures that you get the most out of your gardening experience. So next time you’re about to plant those seeds, remember to turn to your trusty packets for valuable guidance and maximize your food harvest.


Packets may seem like small pieces of paper, but they hold vital information that can greatly impact your harvest. Take the time to carefully read and understand the information on your packets to ensure successful germination and growth. By following these expert tips, you’ll be well on your way to a beautiful and productive garden.

To Learn More Check out these Resources:

3-part Seed Planting Challenge for People who Kill Everything

How to Order Seeds from a Seed Catalog

How to Start Seeds Indoors

How to Grow Seeds in Small Spaces

The Best Time to Transplant Seedlings Outside


What are the best flower seed companies in the USA for flowering plants?

For questions regarding flower seed companies, it is best to do some research and read reviews from other gardeners. Some popular options in the USA include Burpee, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

What are vegetable seed companies that you use?

As for vegetable seed companies, it ultimately depends on personal preference and what type of vegetables you are looking to grow. Popular brands and ones that I use with success include Seeds NOW, Mary’s Heirloom Seeds, and Bakers Rare Seeds.

There are many types of seeds available to order, including flowers, vegetable bulbs, herbs, bulbs, fruits, and more. Other plants to try would include trees and grasses. It’s important to choose seeds that will thrive in your climate and growing conditions.

What is it called when you plant a seed?

When you plant a seed, the process is known as sowing. After the seed is sown and begins to grow, this initial growth stage is referred to as germination. As the plant continues to develop, it will undergo several stages before reaching maturity and producing fruits on vegetables or flowers on flowering plants. So, sowing is the first step towards a successful garden!

What types of vegetable seeds do you order?

The type of seeds I order depends on my garden goals, food, for the season and the available space in my garden. Typically in spring, I like to have a mix of vegetable and flower seeds, as well as some herbs.

It’s important to choose a variety of many plants that will complement each other in terms of growth habits and nutrient needs. Personal preference also plays a role, so don’t be afraid to try new and unique varieties! Overall, the key is to carefully read and understand the information in packets to make informed choices about your garden and the many species available to plant.

How do you plant seeds for beginners?

For beginners, it’s important to first do some research on the specific plants you want to grow. This will help you understand their preferred growing conditions and how to properly care for them.

When planting seeds, make sure to follow the depth and spacing recommendations on the seed packet, and keep an eye on watering and sunlight needs. When many seeds have germinated, you will have roots that have early development in rich soil. Many times, I plant heirlooms that aren’t available in the grocery store and produce vegetables with a delicious taste and texture.

What is a seed stalk?

A seed stalk, also known as a peduncle, is the part of a plant that supports the flower or the seed head. It’s essentially a stem for the flower or the fruit. In the life cycle of a plant, after pollination occurs, the flower develops into a fruit that contains seeds. This structure is held by the tissue on the stalk. In some plants, the stalk elongates as the seeds mature, lifting them higher to facilitate their dispersal by wind or animals.

How does pollination occur?

Seeds reproduce through a process called sexual reproduction, which involves fertilization. Here’s the science behind this miracle:

  1. Pollination: In angiosperms, or flowering plants, this is the transfer of pollen from the male part of a plant (anther) to the female part (stigma). This transfer can occur within the same plant (self-pollination) or between different plants (cross-pollination), facilitated by various agents such as wind, insects, birds, or other animals.

    Fertilization: Once the pollen grain reaches the stigma, it travels down the style to reach the ovule (the egg cell) located in the ovary of the plant. Here, the pollen and egg unite a process known as fertilization, resulting in a zygote.

    Seed Development: The zygote then transforms into an embryo, which is the early stage of a new plant. Two important parts of the embryo are the cotyledons, which are the seed leaves that often store food for the growing plant. Alongside the embryo, the seed also contains endosperm, a tissue that provides nutrients to the developing plant.

    The fertilized ovule, now housing the embryo and endosperm, develops into a seed. Simultaneously, the ovary surrounding the ovule matures into a fruit, which serves to protect the seed and aids in its dispersal. This entire process is a crucial part of the reproductive cycle of angiosperms.

    Dispersal: Seeds are dispersed in various ways including wind, water, animals, or human activity. When a seed lands in an environment suitable for growth in gardens, it can germinate, develop, sprout, and more seeds are produced.

    Germination: Under the right conditions of moisture, temperature, and light, the seed will germinate, breaking open to allow a new plant (seedling) to emerge and grow. Each seed has enough stored food to last a few weeks after germinating.

In this way, seeds ensure the continuation of plant species, contributing to biodiversity and ecological balance in ecosystems. For more detailed information about this scientific process, check this out.

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About the Author

Alicia has been teaching her whole life from elementary teacher to workshops for beginning gardeners.  Go HERE to read Alicia's story into gardening from plant killer to pro grower and garden coach.  If you want to send Alicia a quick message, then use her contact page HERE.

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