Hey! Set aside all those seed catalogs for just a minute. I'm going to share my personal method for reading and buying from seed catalogs, a method that will save you both time and money.
Some newer gardeners may be getting confused by all the seed catalogs they have at this point or like my sister, they have no seed catalogs and would like to get some to order from. But I know if my sister got as many seed catalogs in the mail as I get, she'd go mad trying to figure out what to buy.
I know my method could help her and many others. I’ve been ordering from seed catalogs since the 1970’s when I used to help my Dad pick out seeds to order. (Geez, that makes me seem kind of old, doesn’t it? I was a mere child when I helped my Dad order seeds, I swear!)
Here's my method...
When I finally sit down to look at all the seed catalogs I’ve gotten in the mail, the first order of business is to cast aside those that I have no intention of ordering from.
How do I weed them out? First, I set aside the slick, glossy catalogs that include basically the same seeds that you can get at any big box store. There is no point spending time looking at those catalogs. The prices are higher and you really can find most of those same seeds at the store, often at a discount.
There are also a bunch of catalogs that I get that all seem like they are from different companies, but if you look closely, you’ll see the same basic return address on them. Those go, too. I just don’t like the idea of them, different catalogs from the same basic company. It seems deceptive or something.
At this point, I’ve cast aside nine seed catalogs and have four remaining.
Now I start browsing the remaining catalogs to get a general feel for them, starting with price. Prices vary quite a bit in seed catalogs, as do the description, so I check a few seed varieties I know I’ll get and compare prices.
For example, I checked on ‘Tom Thumb’ lettuce, an heirloom variety that most seed companies carry. I found I could spend as little as 85 cents for 500 seeds or as much as $2.79 for 550 seeds. Other seed companies had packets with 1,000’s of seeds for prices in between. For most gardeners, 500 lettuce seeds is plenty, especially if you are planting more than one variety of lettuce.
Now I've tossed aside two more catalogs due to high prices.
That leaves me with just two catalogs to look at, and I started with a stack of 13. With two catalogs, it’s easy to compare prices and descriptions and generally one of them will have most of the varieties I’m looking for.
I pick out my vegetable seeds first. I like to pick some of the same varieties I’ve had success with in the past and then add in a few new varieties. This way, I’m pretty sure I’ll have a decent harvest, weather and rabbits permitting, and I’ll also have the fun of trying something new. Last year I discovered ‘Cue Ball’ squash, which I loved, so I’ll get those again.
Once I’ve figured out my vegetable seed order, I go back through and pick out flower seeds. I’m a bit more adventurous when it comes to flower seeds and will order based on the description, avoiding anything that is described as “prolific”, “self sows”, “spreads”, etc. which is catalog speak for “this plant will be a future weeding problem”. But remember that “prolific” when it comes to vegetables is usually a good thing. (More on "catalog speak" in a future post.)
I will also look for some specific flower varieties I’ve read about in the past year and want to try. After a summer of reading Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day posts, I’ve got quite a list of flowers to find seeds for this year.
If I can’t find the flower seeds I want in the two catalogs I’ve decided to order from, I’ll do an online search to see if the seeds are available from another seed company at a reasonable price, including shipping. That’s what I did last year when I was looking for ‘Foerster’s Hybrid’ Delphiniums and I had no problems finding a source for the seed.
To finish out my seed ordering, I do one last thing. I list all the seeds on a spreadsheet.
The spreadsheet helps me keep track of which seeds I need to start inside and when, and which ones I’ll direct sow in the garden. It works better to do this before you finalize your order, so you can check your entire list of seeds to see if you have too many (is that possible?) or maybe forgot some varieties you wanted to get. I wouldn’t want to send in my seed order and then realize I forgot to order ‘Green Arrow’ peas or something else essential!
And that’s how I manage to get through all the seed catalogs without going mad, wasting time, or spending a fortune on seeds I’m not likely to sow.
Now, some of you might be shocked at this point to find out that I don’t read all the seed catalogs I get, at least initially. I love good seed catalogs and sowing seeds, but there just isn’t time to read and study all the catalogs I get.
I will, of course glance through the cast-off seed catalogs before I toss them in the recycle bin, just in case they have something unique for sale that I can’t live without. But generally, that is not the case.
If you don’t currently get any seed catalogs, like my sister, you might try ordering from Pinetree Garden Seeds and then next year they will send you a catalog. They have a good selection and sell in smaller quantities for the home gardener, so you’ll spend less and have fewer left over seeds. They’ll get my primary order and then I’ll fill in with an order sent to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.
I should have my complete seed order in the mail by the weekend. The sooner the better because as I put the final touches on this post, four more seed catalogs arrived in the mail. I didn’t even look at them, they went right to the “I’m not ordering from these, at least I don’t think I’m ordering from these" pile.
I have to stay strong, or I'll go mad and broke buying from all those seed catalogs!