Lawn and Garden

Selection and Purchase of Garden Plants

By Alex Straight, WVU Extension Service Doddridge County agriculture agent

Plant Selection Navigating a Seed Catalog
Varieties How to Plant Tips on Fruit and Vegetable Gardening

New to gardening? No problem! Gardening can be done by anyone in any situation. You do not need lots of space, time, or money to have a successful gardening experience. After you begin your garden plan and have begun site preparation, it’s time for the fun part – plant selection!

Plant Selection

When deciding what plants to put in your garden, you want to consider your space and what you want to use your garden for. If you want to preserve your garden’s bounty or sell at a local farmers market, you may want to plant extra. Virginia Tech has developed a great handout on how many plants to plant for expected yields. You will also need to think about the type of gardening system you are doing. Some specific plants are more suitable for different situations like containers or small spaces.

Navigating a Seed Catalog

When flipping through a seed catalog or walking through a local greenhouse, you may come across a few terms that are new to you.

Here are several terms you need to become familiar with before buying your plants or seed.

  • Resistance – refers specific trait a plant variety has that makes it resistant to a certain disease or insect.
  • Tolerance – refers to a specific plant trait that makes the plant tolerant to a disease or pest. The plant is not adversely affected by the disease or pest and can thrive while it is present.
  • Determinant – refers to tomato plants that are more compact and produce one or two fruit crops a season; they do better in small places or cages.
  • Indeterminate – refers to tomato plants that have a vining habit and produce a moderate amount fruit throughout the growing season.
  • Annual – plant that completes its life cycle in one year (most vegetable plants)
  • Perennial – plant that comes back year after year (example: rosemary)
  • Biennial – plant that takes two years to complete its life cycle (example: parsley)
  • Hardiness Zone – refers to the particular climate in your area. Some plants can only grow only in certain areas; check with your WVU Extension county office to see which climate zone you are in before making any plant orders.
  • Hybrid – varieties that are produced by the controlled crossing of parent plants. Hybrid plants usually exhibit the best characteristics of both parents.
  • Heirlooms/Open Pollinators – plants that are not bred with a controlled crossing of parents. They may not be the most uniform or have the best resistance, but they are often fun, unique, and full of wonderful flavor.
  • Days to harvest – refers to the time it takes before you can harvest the plant. This is good to know if you have a growing season that is shorter than the amount of time it takes the plant to produce fruit.


There are thousands of plant varieties. Variety refers to the particular traits of a plant. For example, there are tons of varieties of tomatoes—everything from ones that are green when ripe, small, large, stripped, bushy, round, pear-shaped, and even purple.

Once you have decided which vegetables to plant, half the fun is getting to experiment with varieties. When deciding which varieties to choose, read the description and pick out a few that interest you. Consult with friends, neighbors, and the WVU Extension office for a list of varieties that do well in your area.

When planting several new varieties, remember to make a map so you know where you planted each variety. This is very useful when you find something that does well or your family really enjoys, and you want to plant it again next year.

How to Plant

After you have decided what to plant, how do you go about it? Do you want to grow from seeds or buy pregrown transplants? Here are a few tips to help you decide.

  1. Growing from seeds requires time, patience, and space. You will need to seed all plants weeks before their planting date (usually in March). You will need a place to start the seeds that has a good light source and is warm; you’ll need to be able to water them easily. Young plants require lots of constant water and attention. Beginning gardeners should try a few plants from seed and buy most of their vegetable plants as transplants. Starting from seed can seem cheaper, but you must also factor in the cost of soil, planting materials, seed trays, water, light, and time.
  2. Buying transplants is the easier, less time-consuming route. Transplants are plants that are ready to be planted after the last frost date. They can be purchased at local greenhouses, local big-box stores, and even some feed stores. When selecting transplants, examine every plant in the pack, looking for signs of disease and insects. You want to bring home only healthy plants to put in your garden.
  3. Some plants require direct seeding. This means you plant the seeds directly in the soil where you want them to finish their life cycle. These plants are usually quick to germinate and mature and have fairly hardy seedlings. Examples of these plants are corn, peas, squashes, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, zucchini, and beans. When direct seeding plants, you will seed and then thin them to specified spacing. This means that you will pull up plants that are too close together to make sure the plants get adequate spacing.

Anytime you plant in your garden, you want to pay attention to the spacing and depth of the planting as specified on the package. This will ensure that each plant gets adequate moisture and sunlight and there is good air flow between plants. Correct spacing will help cut down on disease problems and increase the overall quality of the fruit on each plant.

The most important thing about gardening is having fun! If you make a mistake, you always have next year to try again. Get your family involved – it’s a great way to encourage kids to eat vegetables and spend time outdoors.

Tips on Fruit and Vegetable Gardening

  • Always disinfect tools and stakes after every season, and remove and burn any diseased plant material.
  • Rotate crops around the garden from year to year.
  • Use pantyhose to tie tomatoes and slip them around melons to keep them free of blemishes.
  • Put mulch around plants to retain moisture and cut down on weed problems.