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Seed Buying Do’s & Don’ts”

Happy New Year! It’s time to pack up decorations, and pack-off the visiting relatives. Now is “me” time. Grab a “cuppa” your favorite beverage, snuggle into a throw, review your notes from last year’s growing season and begin perusing seed catalogs. This article provides suggestions about things to consider when purchasing seeds.

By BJ Hansell, Master Gardener

Seed Buying Do’s & Don’ts”

Most every gardening-related resource online will advise you that the best time to  order seeds is between the months of January and April. That is mostly because seed sellers publish their catalogs around the December holidays. Additionally, the orders should be arriving before planting time.


Before completing a deep-dive into seed catalogs, checkout The Dakota County Seed Library that is maintained through a partnership between the Dakota County Library, Dakota County Library Foundation and the University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners. It is located at the Farmington Library. If you are searching for a wonderful variety of seeds please avail yourself of this service. The collection includes Edibles, Flowers, Herbs and “Others.” Did I mention the seeds are FREE? FREE SEEDS!!


Click on this link, enter “Seed Library” in the search box, then follow the resulting Seed Library link. There you can learn about the mission of the Seed Library, the list of current seed inventory and how to acquire seeds. Donors for this season include Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, and personal donations. The inventory will be updated during January & February 2024.


We also operate an ongoing ‘Seed Drive'.  Everyone is encouraged to participate. We request heirloom varieties packaged for 2023 or later in the supplier’s original packet.  Hybrid varieties and clearly labeled collected seeds may be added directly to one of our 'Share' drawers. 


 This resource is especially useful if you do not want large quantities of particular seeds.


As you begin collecting seeds, they should be stored in low-light and low-humidity environments. They should experience as little temperature fluctuation as possible. Photo storage boxes are a great example of one method for compact & organized seed storage.


Here is a summary of 10 tips for buying seeds online and in catalogs.

1. Ask gardeners you trust to find out what companies they like and have had success with. A good source is a Dakota County Master Gardener.

2. Call the company and see how you like their responses to your questions. Do they have knowledgeable staff on hand to answer your gardening and planting questions?

3. How long have they been in business? Just because they’re new, doesn’t make them bad. But the companies that have been around a long time must be doing something right.

4. Are you looking for something specific? Some companies specialize in only certain plants while others are more generalist. If you’re looking for only certified organic, or heirloom for example, those companies are out there. Be aware there are plenty of specialty companies.

5. Don’t over buy. This is a common mistake. It is easy to be sucked into the pretty pictures and before you know it, you’ve purchased way more than you’ll have time to plant or that you’ll have room to grow. Partner with a fellow gardener to share large quantities at perhaps a better value.

6. How much are shipping costs? Sometimes it can be more than the seeds. Companies can vary a great deal here. Know the whole cost, not just the price of the seeds or plants.

7. Make sure the seeds you are buying are fresh and packaged for that year. Deeply discounted seeds may be out of date. Although still viable in many cases, they do begin to decline in their rate of germination success as they get older and/or stored improperly. Remember, you get what you pay for.

8. Know approximately how many seeds are in a pack. Some packs have more seeds than you’ll need, while others will surprise you at the small amount provided. It pays to inquire to save the disappointment of finding out you didn’t get enough.

9. Know if what you are ordering will grow in your zone and conditions. It is so easy to assume you’ll get results like those in the picture. In reality, without just the right conditions, your results could vary greatly. Take note of the updated 2023 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

10. Don’t be afraid to try new things. You won’t blow your life’s savings on an order of seeds so if you’re feeling lucky, go for it. Experimenting is one of the best parts of gardening. Nothing ventured, nothing gained as they say.

See you next month when another knowledgeable MG will share information on seed starting!



Photo credits: University of Minnesota Extension (1), (2)

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