How to Buy Vegetable Seeds for Your Garden

Young cabbage plants in a vegetable garden
It's never too early to buy vegetable seeds for your spring garden. For the biggest selection, the best time to order garden seeds is in late fall and or at least by early winter.

How to buy vegetable seeds for your garden

In the past I often waited too long to place my online seed order, only to find that the seeds I really want are already out of stock.

So I have to go to the feed store and buy whatever seed packets they happen to have. However, there isn't much variety in retail stores. 

I like to grow and buy heirloom vegetable seeds, and sometimes they can be hard to find in those store displays.

And you might remember that in recent years, seeds sold out much earlier than usual and were harder to find. 

So I've gotten into the habit of ordering my vegetable seeds much earlier now, preferably in the fall or over the winter. That way most of the seed varieties I want are in stock.

I suggest that you order vegetable seeds for next year now!

Should you buy seeds or transplants

You might wonder why I don't just buy transplants (or started plants) instead of seeds.

The biggest reason is that I'm limited to what the nursery decides to grow and sell. 

But I want to be in charge of choosing what I'll grow and harvest and eat. My favorite varieties of some vegetables aren't available as transplants. 

I discuss this question in more depth in this post Seeds vs Seedlings, which should you plant?

So this year let's be smart and do it the right way, by ordering our spring seeds early - NOW.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means if you click on a link and make a purchase I might earn a small commission, but it doesn't affect the price you pay. Read my disclosure here for more info.

Beet plants ("beet greens") in a vegetable garden.

Start with a seed inventory

The first step in ordering seeds is to take inventory of the seeds you have on hand. We all have them, right? Opened, partially-used packets of seeds from last year, the year before, maybe even the year before that.

You did know you can save the leftover seeds to plant later, right? As long as you store seeds correctly, they should be viable for several years. Here's my advice on how to store your leftover seeds.

Make a list of the seed packets you have on hand

Divide your leftover seed packets into three piles: flowers, vegetables and herbs. Then, whether you use a sheet of paper or a spreadsheet, write down all the seed packets you have on hand.

I enter the information in a spreadsheet, with all the vegetable seed packets in one group, then the herbs and then the flowers.

Each seed packet should have date on it - such as "packed for 2022" - so I add that information too. 

Now you know what you have on hand, but if any of those seeds are a bit old, it's a good idea to do a germination test to make sure the seeds are still "alive" (viable). You can learn how to do a germination test here: how to do a seed germination test.

The seeds that don't pass my germination test - when no seeds germinate, or if the germination rate is really low - are disposed of. 

I feel a bit of grief doing this, but there is no point in keeping seeds that won't grow. They are crossed off of my seed inventory list.

(Sometimes I take those old, old seeds out into the woods on our property and broadcast them by hand in a clearing. I just can't bear to throw them out! They're left to their own devices, but if any do sprout and grow, I hope they feed the wildlife and provide pollen for bees.)

Cayenne peppers growing in a backyard garden.

Make a seed packet wish list

Next, make a new list of what you want to grow this year.

Tomatoes always top my list, of course; tomatoes are the reason I began gardening so many years ago.

No grocery store tomato will ever taste as good as a sun-warmed tomato fresh from my own garden. And I'd certainly never find the variety of colors and flavors I want in a grocery store either.

Next add the staple crops to your list: carrots, peppers, and all the vegetables you want to grow each year. Don't forget to order herb seeds and some flower seeds too. Many flowers will benefit your garden by attracting pollinators, and can repel some insect pests too.

By the way, not all insects are bad. There are many bugs that are good for your garden! You can read about some of the good bugs here.

And finally, add something new to the list, something that you want to grow this year. Because what's life without a few experiments?

How about some blue tomatoes? Or a new variety of hot pepper? Perhaps you'd like to try growing a salad garden in your own backyard.

How many seed packets to order

Chances are your wishlist is pretty long at this point. But there's never enough room to grow everything, is there? 

So take your space into consideration, make a plan for succession planting and growing vertically, and decide how many plants of each variety will fit in your garden. 

You might only have space for 2 or 3 plants of something, but that's ok. Order a packet of seeds and plant just a few of them, because now you know how to store seeds correctly so they'll grow next year too, right? 

Finally, compare this information - your wishlist with all your added notes - to your seed inventory, the list of seeds that passed the germination test. Now you can decide what needs to be ordered.

Woman holding a large head of cabbage harvested from her garden.

Then go shopping for seeds - what to plant in your garden

This is the fun part! Now it's time to browse catalogs and online, and decide which varieties to grow.

Should you order your vegetable seeds online? I highly recommend it. The selection will always be larger online than in a local store and you'll find more information on each variety of seed.

I live in Zone 7b, so I look for varieties that will grow well here. You can find your plant hardiness zone by entering your zip code at the USDA site.

I have to deal with hot summers for instance, so I look for varieties that can withstand heat. Drought resistance is another plus for my region.

You might have different requirements than I do. Disease resistance or cold tolerance, for instance, or fast-maturing plants for a short growing season. Write down your requirements and preferences.

If you're short on space or must use containers, look for smaller varieties, or purchase vining varieties and grow them on a trellis.

Armed with this information, you can begin filling out your seed order - oh, it's still so hard to choose, but you can at least narrow down the options, right? 

Get started now so you can order early and your chances of getting the seeds you want will be better.

Organize your seed orders

Keep your seed lists in your garden notebook so you won't have to start from scratch next year. Having most of this information already written down will make the process easier (and faster) next time.

If you don't have a garden journal already, just grab a 3-ring binder or notebook and get started. Or copy your lists into a composition notebook or your planner.

Learn how to save seeds

A good goal this year is to learn how to save seeds so you won't need to order as many seed packets next year. 

You'll need to order and grow heirloom, open-pollinated seeds in order to save seeds. 

If you plant hybrid seeds they won't grow true to type, but heirloom seeds will grow plants that look and taste like the parent plants. 

You can learn more about the difference between heirloom and hybrid seeds in this guest post from Mary at Mary's Heirloom Seeds.

A salad garden of lettuce, green onions and other plants growing in a metal washtub container.

Where to order vegetable seeds online

I recommend ordering heirloom, organic, open-pollinated, non-GMO seeds from Mary's Heirloom Seeds

I've always been happy with the service and with the quality of the seeds I've received from Mary. The germination rates are great!

Don't forget the carrots!

There are so many seed choices and it can be hard to restrain ourselves! 

I hope this method will help you make wise decisions so you don't end up with more seeds than will ever fit in your garden space and then realize you forgot to order carrot seeds. (Because that's never happened to me. Ahem.)

Related Posts:

Garden Terms and Phrases for New Gardeners
Fast-Growing Vegetables
9 Warm-Weather Vegetables to Grow in Your Garden

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There's no better way to spend a winter evening than planning your spring garden. Here's how to choose what to order so you won't forget the carrots.


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