Demand for Garden Seeds is Sky-High Again—Here's What You Need to Know
You might not be able to get your favorite varieties, but that could be an opportunity for trying something new.
I'm not surprised when I can't find disinfectant sprays, hand wipes, and toilet paper in stores anymore. But with spring coming up, I noticed that the blue morning glory seeds I wanted to grow around my mailbox and the heirloom Italian tomato variety I always use to make sauce are already out of stock at the small seed company I usually order from. During this past year's pandemic gardening surge, seed buying spiked as much as 300 percent, causing many varieties to sell out early in the season. Now I'm wondering if many seeds will be hard to come by again this year.
Even though "gardening went off the charts" last year, there's no need to worry about the seed supply now, says Mike Lizotte, president of the Home Garden Seed Association and a managing partner at High Country Gardens, American Meadows and Landreth's Seeds. "I've been in this industry over 30 years," Lizotte says, and "there's been a surge in demand most of us have never seen." That demand shows no signs of slowing down in 2021 for all types of seeds from veggies and herbs to flowers, but suppliers have anticipated this and prepared for it. "I'm pretty confident in saying there won't be shortages, but the sooner you purchase, the better," Lizotte adds.
You should be able to find plenty of seeds to buy this year, as long as you keep an open mind and don't get discouraged if you can't find the exact seed variety you're looking for. Certain varieties might sell out, and producing more seeds isn't like manufacturing more toilet paper. If your favorite heirloom tomato seeds are out of stock, try a different one. "You might find cool and unique varieties to grow," Lizotte says.
Diane Blazek, executive director at the National Garden Bureau and All-America Selections, agrees with Lizotte, advising gardeners to "be patient and open to trying new varieties." She points out that seed companies did "bump up supplies for this spring, but no one anticipated the demand would continue to this year quite like it is." With so many people trying to find varieties for the upcoming growing season, seed sellers have been swamped. "Imagine trying to deal with a 400 percent increase in orders when you are short-staffed because of COVID and social distancing," says Blazek.
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 where you may find retail companies you've never heard of and all are reputable seed dealers who sell quality seeds." And 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 one option, or you could find other gardeners online who may also have excess seeds of their own to offer as well. And despite the pandemic, in person seed swaps are also happening around the country, according to Kathy Jentz, editor of Washington D.C.'s Washington Gardener Magazine in Washington, D.C. 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 plan swaps on other dates. The website has a calendar of events so you can find a swap happening in your area. It also provides tips for hosting your own swap, including following all recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for safe gatherings.
Once you've gotten your seeds planted and growing, Jentz advises keeping the future in mind. "Definitely plan on seed saving starting around August or in fall. Keep a handful for yourself, and make packs for friends and family, and some you can swap with others or give to seed libraries."
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."