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Garden Help Desk: Differences between pelleted, regular seeds

By USU Extension - | Feb 25, 2023

Courtesy Meredith Seaver

Pelleting makes small or irregularly shaped seeds easier to handle and plant.

My new seed catalog has pelleted seeds and regular seeds. Are pelleted seeds really worth the extra cost?

Pelleting is a process used to coat tiny or irregularly shaped seeds with an inert material. It’s true that pelleted seeds cost more but, depending on what kind of gardener you are, there can be advantages to using pelleted seeds.

  • Small or oddly shaped seeds are easier to separate and handle if they’re pelleted, making planting by hand faster and easier.
  • Pelleted seeds are less likely to jam the mechanical seeders that some gardeners like to use.
  • Pelleting can keep seed treatments on the seed after planting.

Pelleted seeds have a few disadvantages, too:

  • Pelleted seeds are more expensive.
  • The pelleting process may shorten the storage life of the seeds. Only buy enough seed for one season. If you do have leftover seeds, keep them in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place.

Pelleted seeds are less tolerant of wet or dry soil conditions during germination. Evenly moist soil is best for them, so they need a bit more attention.

How can I get the weeds in my backyard orchard under control (I have about two dozen trees)? My yard is part of an old alfalfa field, and I can’t seem to get ahead of the perennial weeds or the alfalfa. How do I best control the weeds in the orchard? And should I be using bark nuggets around my trees?

You’ll save yourself a lot of work if you establish some alleyways of perennial cover crops between rows of bare soil under your trees instead of trying to keep your orchard area completely free of vegetation under and around your fruit trees. There are several grasses that are good choices for this, but you can also leave the alfalfa in those alleyways, too.

Getting a good of grasses and alfalfa will help to suppress the growth of weeds, but there are other advantages to having cover crop alleyways in your orchard. Green alleyways can lower the summertime temperature by a few degrees, reduce the amount of dust in your orchard, keep things cleaner during harvest, and cut down on mud, making it easier to move around in the spring when soil moisture can be higher.

If you choose to establish alleyways and you want to keep the alfalfa that’s growing there, you can overseed that alfalfa with a hard fescue. Fescues are “bunch grasses” that grow in clumps instead of sending out runners, so you won’t have fescue spreading quickly into your tree rows the way some other grasses would. Don’t use lawn grasses in your alleyways, as they spread easily and require more frequent watering, which isn’t healthy for your trees.

The tree rows should be wide enough to maintain 3-4 feet of plant and weed-free soil on both sides of your trees. Alfalfa can be hard to eliminate, and perennial weeds are also a challenge around trees. The best way to get rid of the weeds and alfalfa under your trees is by applying glyphosate (KillzAll, Ultra-kill, Roundup, etc.). Glyphosate is much safer for your trees than broadleaf herbicides like those used to control weeds in lawns, which shouldn’t be used around your trees. Take care to keep the glyphosate spray away from the trunks of your trees. Choose a glyphosate product doesn’t claim to have long-term weed control or weed preventers in it, as those products could affect the health and vigor of any tree roots near the soil surface.

To establish your alleyway cover crops, mow the alfalfa short and overseed with the hard fescue. Once your alleyway cover crops are established you should keep the alleyways mowed to about 4 inches tall. The alfalfa and hard fescue won’t need more frequent watering than your fruit trees, so a deep soak not more than once every 7-10 days during the summer and less often in the spring and fall will be all your orchard needs.

Having alleyways and tree rows will make your large home-orchard maintenance easier, but you can make weed-free circles around the trees instead of you prefer and plant the orchard area in the same cover crops. Keep the soil plant and weed-free in 6-8 foot wide circles around the trees. You can keep the area in the circles (or in the tree rows between alleyways) as bare soil, or you can use wood chips. If using chips, a 2-3 inch deep layer is best. Keep the chips 6 inches away from the trunks to reduce pest problems.


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