Demand for Garden Seeds is Still High—Here's What You Need to Know to Shop Smarter
Throughout the pandemic, we've grappled with shortages of disinfectant sprays, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper. And with the popularity of gardening surging, even things like seeds have been harder to find. For example, last spring the blue morning glory seeds I wanted to grow around my mailbox and the heirloom Italian tomato variety I always use to make sauce sold out in a flash at the small seed company I usually order from. With seed buying spiking as much as 300% in 2020, many varieties were out of stock early in 2021. Experts predict your favorite seeds may still be hard to come by again this year, but they've got a few tips to help you shop for seeds successfully.
Diane Blazek, executive director at the National Garden Bureau and All-America Selections, says 2022 seed orders so far are at least as strong as last year and may rise. And you might not get your seeds as soon as you want, she warns. "The supply chain has been disrupted everywhere. It's not just seeds coming into the country. Companies might need more seed packets to fill, or delivery services like UPS might be overwhelmed. It might be totally out of the seed companies' control."
"Staples" such as peas, beans, and tomato and cucumber seeds are always popular, says Mike Lizotte, president of the Home Garden Seed Association and a managing partner at High Country Gardens, American Meadows and Landreth's Seeds. "Inventory continues to be lean, so order from your favorite seed companies early for the best selection and availability. If your favorite varieties are sold out, embrace it as an opportunity to try something new," Lizotte adds.
At Ferry Morse, Chief Gardening Guru Rebecca Sears reports a continued high demand for seeds. "As remote work becomes more common, people are moving out of cities and buying homes in the suburbs with room to garden. Less commuting also means people have more time to do the things they love, which for many people is now gardening."
Sears is seeing more orders for herbs and vegetables, "as more people grow edibles for improved flavor over store-bought produce. What's new over the past year, and we expect to continue, is accelerating demand for flower seeds. In 2021, we saw flower seed sales grow at 10 times the pace of edibles, including vegetables, herbs, and fruits. The top flower seed sellers were sunflowers, zinnias, and wildflowers."
Flower seeds, especially for annuals like cosmos and those zinnias and sunflowers, continue to sell extremely well, Lizotte says. "Their big, bold colors bring bouquets to life, providing a sense of warmth and encouragement during these uncertain times." Native plant seeds are popular, too, he says, for restoring habitats and supporting pollinators. He recommends ordering early and signing up for your favorite seed companies' newsletters so you're notified when items are back in stock. "Use technology, such as setting reminders in your calendar to 'order early,'" Lizotte adds.
You can also order seeds throughout the year, rather than only in the early spring. Blazek says seed companies were swamped in 2021, when COVID left them short-staffed, and orders rose a whopping 400%. "Most of those orders hit in March and April, but now people seem to realize seeds that sold out in early spring may be available later, so shop year-round," she says. Her pro tip is to "follow seed sellers on social media so you'll know if any issues are coming up, or if they have excess seeds to sell or specials."
If your favorite seed vendor is backed up or sold out, you can also try new-to-you sources. "Our website has a 'Shop Our Members' page," Blazek says, "where you may find retail companies you've never heard of and all are reputable seed dealers who sell quality seeds." When you do get your hands on some seeds, Blazek suggests sharing them with others as much as possible. "I like to say that no home gardener really needs 25 seeds of one variety of tomato. With today's excellent germination rates, you can probably do with a lot fewer."
Sharing your extras with neighbors or friends is another option, or you could find other gardeners online who may also have excess seeds of their own to offer as well. Despite the pandemic, in person seed swaps are also happening around the country, says Kathy Jentz, editor of Washington D.C.'s Washington Gardener Magazine. Jentz is also the founder of National Seed Swap Day, held each year on the last Saturday in January. It's a chance for people to share seeds and find swaps on other dates. Check the website for a calendar of event, but be aware some may be cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19.
While I wait for my favorite seed seller to restock those blue morning glory seeds, I'm going to order a scarlet variety that I bet the hummingbirds can't resist and a different type of plum tomato for sauces. A few temporary shortages might turn out to be a good thing, because I'm finding new flowers and veggies to try. Remember that this is all about having fun, says Lizotte, and with a little planning and patience, you'll be able to get plenty of seeds. "I'm confident you'll find some joy in gardening regardless of what you plant this year."