7 Things to Remember When Ordering Seeds

Buying seeds? Learn how to make the most of your order.

Zinnia Seed Packets

Zinnia Seed Packets

Instead of buying zinnia seeds in individual colors, look for seed packets that contain a blend of flower colors.

Photo by: Julie Martens Forney

Julie Martens Forney

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Winter snows bring a fresh crop of seed catalogs to mailboxes everywhere. Even with online sales, most gardeners look forward to curling up with a stack of catalogs and a steamy cup on a snowy day. Each flip of a page conjures up grand garden dreams.

Seed Catalogs In Mailbox

Seed Catalogs In Mailbox

Seed catalogs start arriving in mailboxes in January.

Photo by: Julie Martens Forney

Julie Martens Forney

But our advice—from personal experience—is to tether your dreams to a few practical tips on ordering seeds.

We might not make restraint your mantra when perusing those glossy pictures, but we can help you shop smarter. Get started with a little over-the-garden-fence seed ordering advice.

1: Order Early

Lettuce Seed In Catalog

Lettuce Seed In Catalog

When ordering lettuce seed, include types for both spring and fall planting.

Photo by: Julie Martens Forney

Julie Martens Forney

Seed supplies are finite. For best chances at getting everything you want, order early. This is especially true with new items and some hard-to-find seeds (the catalog should state clearly if something is in short supply). If in doubt about a certain seed, double-check supplies at the catalog’s online site. Many companies keep their stock updated online.

2: Plan Ahead

Order everything you’ll need for the entire year. Think ahead to fall crops like lettuce, greens, radishes, collards, beets and cole crops like broccoli or Brussels sprouts. Because seed supplies are finite, if you don’t get seeds for your fall crops early in the year, you might not be able to find them later.

3: Inventory Your Seeds

Take time to see what seeds you have on hand. Be realistic about whether or not you need more seeds, based on the crop. For instance, you probably will only plant a few zucchini seeds, and half a packet of year-old seed could supply your needs this year. But with a crop like carrots, which you sow thickly, half a packet wouldn’t be enough for a robust harvest. Check the date on seed packets to get an idea if seeds are fresh or ready to be replaced. Conduct your own germination tests by placing seeds on a moist coffee filter that’s folded in half on itself and slid into a zipper plastic bag. Check seeds for germination every few days, and calculate seed viability. 

4: Try Heirloom Seeds

Zinnia Seed Packets

Zinnia Seed Packets

Instead of buying zinnia seeds in individual colors, look for seed packets that contain a blend of flower colors.

Photo by: Julie Martens Forney

Julie Martens Forney

Plant heirloom seeds, and you’ll be able to harvest and save seed for future planting. If garden space permits, try raising your own seed supply of one or two crops by starting with heirloom seed.

5: Consider Custom Blends

Many seed companies create custom seed blends that offer certain shades of a plant, such as zinnia, leaf lettuce or bush bean. If a mix exists that contains your favorite colors of a crop, it may be more cost-effective to buy that single-blended packet than to get individual packets of each color. Do the math to figure out the best buy for your situation.

6: Shop Smart 

For the best deals, comparison shop between different seed companies. Double-check shipping fees, which can triple the cost of just a few seed packets. Find a garden friend you might share an order with and split shipping costs. Also check how many seeds come in a packet. This varies by crop and company, but knowing cost per seed can help guide your buying choices.

7: Attend National Seed Swap Day

Many companies offer free seed packets with every order. Always get those freebies—they make a nice contribution on National Seed Swap Day, which is the last Saturday in January. Search online to find local seed swaps near you. Take your freebie seeds, along with any other seeds you’re able to share.

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