Six Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying Seeds

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner


Buying seeds

Starting plants from seeds is an inexpensive and fun way to try different types of vegetables and flowers, as many heirloom and uncommon varieties are often easiest to find as seeds.

Unusual transplants can be harder to find at gardening centers. So, seeds can really open the door to exciting plant discoveries – all for a couple dollars. But before you buy those seeds, ask yourself a few questions.

Who is supplying these seeds and how were they collected?

Always consider the sources of your seeds, particularly for edible plants. Is the seed company well established and following good gardening principles when collecting and storing seeds? Has the company demonstrated a strong belief in sustainability, plant diversity and protecting endangered plants? Does it have a good reputation for seed quality and customer service? What is its position on genetically engineered seeds? There are many good seed companies out there, but make sure you’re buying from a reputable company with excellent products.


Organic seed listing


Are the seeds organic or not?

If you’re growing food, you may want the seeds to be organic. Many seed companies provide conventional and organic seeds side by side, with both types labeled clearly. If the seeds are certified organic that means they were harvested from plants grown without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers or fungicides.  

Are the seeds open-pollinated or hybrid?

Pay attention to whether the seeds are open-pollinated or a hybrid. If you buy hybrids – which are a cross between two or more parent plants with desirable characteristics – they will be marked (F1).  For gardeners who save seeds to plant the following year, this is important information. When you plant seeds from hybrids they won’t reproduce identical to the parent plant. However, if you plant open-pollinated seeds, you’ll be able to save seeds for future generations because the new plants stay true to form. This is how heirloom plants, which have open-pollinated seeds, have continued to grow in gardens for centuries.

Where will you grow the seeds?

Just as with transplants, consider whether your garden provides the right growing conditions for the seeds you’re ordering. Are you trying to grow full-sun annuals in a shady spot? Will those drought-tolerant plants survive in that garden bed, or does the soil stay too moist? Many companies list the growing needs of their seeds in their catalogs and on websites. You can learn a lot about plants, and save yourself money and time, if you take the time to learn first whether those seeds will thrive in your garden.


Peas and lettuce


Should you sow them outdoors? Or start them indoors?

Some seeds grow best when sown directly in the garden soil, such as peas, lettuces, sunflowers, carrots and poppies.


when to sow seeds


Other plants should be started indoors about 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date; then planted outside later in the season. This includes frost-sensitive tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Knowing how particular seeds germinate best will help you know when to get started, and whether you’ll need to find sufficient indoor lighting to start seeds in your home.

How long will those seeds stay viable?

It’s easy to buy more seeds than you can actually plant in a year. In fact, I do this all the time. Keep in mind those old seeds will only last so long. Some seeds are naturally more short-lived than others, such as spinach or onion seeds. Others last longer such as kale or collard greens. Seeds are best stored in a cool, dry area like a basement or refrigerator.  To see if your seeds are still viable, place a few seeds on a wet paper towel in a warm room. In a few days, they should start to germinate.