Managing More than 50 Seed Packets

Early responses to the Garden Bloggers Seed Survey indicate that darn near every gardener sows a few seeds. In fact, just one respondent out of 21 so far doesn’t sow seeds. The reason given is because they buy the seeds and then forget about them, so they buy plants.

Yes, I agree, plants are bigger and easier to see than packets of seeds and aren’t usually tossed in a drawer and forgotten. But I know some gardeners who buy plants, set them behind some shrubs or off to one side, and then promptly forget about them and never get around to planting them.

Not me, of course, but I’ve heard of gardeners who have done that. Did you know it's cheaper to forget to sow a packet of seeds than to forget to plant an actual plant?

Another observation from the early returns on the survey (which you can still participate in, if you would like to do so) is that no one seems to have more than 50 packets of seeds… except me.

I would guess one reason is because seeing that many seed packets and knowing you are going to sow all those seeds, might be a bit overwhelming to some gardeners. But with a little bit of time spent organizing your seed sowing, anyone can manage this many seeds.

Here’s what I do to organize my seeds.

List all of the seed varieties on a spreadsheet. I usually note type, such as annual, perennial, vegetable; name; variety; whether to sow indoors or outdoors; and approximate date I’ll sow the seeds. I have spreadsheets going back to 1999, I think. It makes for a nice history of my garden.

Figure out how much room you have inside to sow seeds. I have two shelf units for my seed starting, with three shelves each and each shelf will hold a flat and a half. Each half flat has enough room for 25 pots. I usually use the Jiffy pots that come in strips. So I can grow 225 plants per shelf unit, or a total of 450 plants. Once I know that, I look at the seeds I want to sow inside and figure out how many of each variety I’ll grow in those pots.

By the way, some years, I sow seeds for that many plants, but many years, I don’t. I grow less.

Make up good plant labels for the seedlings, especially those you will sow inside. Trust me, it is hard to tell one tomato variety from another when you are just looking at the tomato plant. In fact, it's impossible. For my plant labels, I sometimes copy the seed name and varieties from the spreadsheet into a document, fix the spacing a bit, then print the page of names, cut them out into label size pieces, and use inexpensive clear laminate to cover the labels, which I then tape to a wooden ice cream spoon, the kind you can buy at craft stores. Got that?

But sometimes, I just write a number on the plant label/small wooden ice cream spoon and cross reference it to a number on my printed seed list. It just depends on the year and how much time and energy I want to put into the labels.

Stick to your seed sowing schedule. When it is time to sow seeds inside, do it! When it is time to sow seeds outside, do it! Then take care of your seedlings.

Share extra seeds with other gardeners. I’ll admit I’ve not done very well at sharing my extra seeds but this year I hope to find a few budding gardeners who would like to try to grow some plants from seeds, and give them some of my extras. I’ll also end up with a few extra tomato and pepper plants, so I’ll give those away, too, if I can find any takers.

This evening, I've been looking over all my seed packets, seeing what I have, getting ready to make up my spreadsheet.

I found the Impatien seeds that I thought I hadn't purchased, a lovely variety called ‘Midnight Blend’ from Botanical Interests. The packet is beautifully illustrated, of course.

I also thought I had purchased a bunch of nasturtium seeds because I liked how they looked last summer in the vegetable garden. But I only have three packets, ‘Alaska Mix’, ‘Jewel Mix’, and ‘Black Velvet’. I think I need a few more varieties of naturtiums.

I wonder what other seeds I have that I don’t remember ordering or what seeds I thought I ordered, but didn't? I’ll bet the garden fairies know. In fact, they might be responsible for a fair number of these seeds. I'm curious now. I better get on with making up that spreadsheet to answer the question, “just what seeds do I have”?


  1. Does the link to the survey work correctly? It goes to the homepage, but not the Garden Bloggers Seed Survey.

  2. Well, I was unsure about how many I buy each year. I know it's more than I picked. And I sow a lot more than I buy because some are given to me, and some are from the year before. This year I know I've sown a lot more. And that's not counting the fact that I sow some things in succession. Good survey!

  3. Seeds are really addictive...I'm trying to cut down from about 150 varieties to not more than max 100 this far I have sown about 30 but I'm just getting started..
    The worst thing is that I have no system at all..I keep seedpackets for several years..tomatoeseed can be perhaps 7 years old and still be fine...and I collect my own seed, I get seeds from friends, I buy seeds every year and "steal" seeds in gardens I visit..
    Sometimes it feels like a disease..

  4. over 450 seedlings? wow! that is a big number. Thank you for sharing your experience - I start seeds at home, but usually, have some organisational problems how to deal with them. Have you seen my orchid pictures collection?

  5. How funny -- you are second of the blogs I follow to mention sowing seeds this week... and both have happened after I wrote my own post on getting started with seeds!

  6. You are very organized, would love to see your shelving where you sow your seeds indoors.

  7. Laura would love to have any extra tomatoes you might have that would grow in pots. Or anything else she could grow in pots.

  8. Carol, you only have 50 packets of seeds? You are so restrained ! I have a huge box of them under my bed, a shoe box full still from my mother's garden about 25 yrs. old! I have heaps harvested from my own gardens as well as 30 yr. old packets donated by friends. I love them all, and someday, when our 6 year drought brakes, I will re-establish my beauiful dead garden and make the desert bloom again.

  9. Inventory and charting-- what dedication! Sometimes I fall into the blonde catagory...everything is new and exciting. (did I plant that? ;-) ) Not that bad, but I am not a record keeper. I DO admire those who do. More power to you!

  10. I always inventory the seed in my house before I place seed orders for the year. I put it all in a spreadsheet, along with the quantity and how old it is. Then I know what I really need to buy. Then I always end up with too much anyway.

  11. Carol, is there a Plant a Row for the Hungry chapter in Indianapolis? Besides growing food for hungry people, I wonder if there is a community garden program you could donate your unused seed to.

  12. Space for seed starting is what I lack. Oh to have the luxury of 2 whole shelves...

  13. This year I will be starting some seeds indoors, and there is a plan for a new coldframe, but I have always planted lots of seeds outdoors when the weather is good. But I definitely understand the pleasure of planting a whole small garden in one afternoon with starts from our local general store or the local garden center. It can be very encouraging for a new gardener.
    The Commonweeder

  14. This is my first year ever to plant a seed (unless you count the beans I planted in a styrofoam cup in elementary school, keeping a daily record of it's amazingly FAST growth).
    I think your seed posts, along with many others, is starting to take its toll on me. I have succumbed--I hope it's not a death sentence:(
    I have decided to try to find plant lights that can replace the florescent lights hanging in my husbands hanging shop lights. That's my next project: it's on my list to buy them, today.
    I just learned how difficult it is to keep the markers from wearing off. The ones that come w/the plants always become brittle and break or fade over time (I already knew this). What I just learned is the ones I wrote on w/indelible ink have just about faded entirely, and that happened on the first day after I stuck them in the pots. Your idea (while something I might otherwise consider on the OCD side:)--sounds excellent. I have a miniature laminator (for crafts) and how cool would that be--and easy, too. I don't even need to bother with the spread sheet (I'm not THAT organized:)--I'll just write the names out on paper, cut them, and laminate them! WOW. Now, does the 'tape' ever come off the popsicle sticks when they get too moist???:)

  15. I always order way too many seeds. I mean, what am I gonna do with 400 lettuce seeds? Extra seeds can always be given to the school garden or community plot. I'm planning to share my seedlings with the school this year, too -- especially since they gave me permission to start them in their greenhouse.

  16. 450 plants sown indoors. Wow!

    This year I did a little experiment on larkspur and planted a bunch of seed outdoors in a seedbed. They sprouted and I transplanted about 500 seedlings and still only managed to transplant maybe 1/5th of the ones that came up. Seems a shame that I didn't have room for all the seedlings that sprouted.

    You are very, very disciplined. How I admire you.

  17. Only 50 packets of seed? Carol This Will Not Do! ;-) I have my own seed organiser that I've blogged about before and I write down what and how to sow per month each year.

  18. All, thanks for the comments and all the great information in them.

    I should clarify, I do have more than 50 seed packets... I have 77 right now. I'm trying to keep it to that number, trying....

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  19. I think garden bloggers are an "elite" class of gardeners, as far as sowing goes. They are in the minority of gardeners I know IRL, and as I often speak about winter seed sowing, people invariably confess to me afterward that they've never sown seeds and never had any interest in it, but MIGHT try winter-sowing. In fact, I was surprised how many gardeners enough into gardening to attend a conference or event did NOT sow seeds.

  20. Carol, the spread sheet is a GREAT idea! I shall set one up this very evening. I can't believe I'm not already doing a spread sheet, I'm a *CPA*, for goodness sake!

    I'm constantly forgetting I have this or that kind of seeds, until it's too late in the season to plant them. I'll for sure include a column for the sowing date. That way, I'll be able to sort by date, so I'll be sure not to miss the sowing time.

    Thanks for the wonderful idea!

    P.S. I too am aware of a gardener who has been known to set young plants out of the way and forget to plant them. And to find them later after they have died a terrible, thirsty death. No, no, I never did such a thing, not me. :-)


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