Around this time of year, I always end up with quite a few messages asking me where I recommend ordering seeds from.
I fondly remember early springtime as a child. Our mailbox would be jammed full of seed catalogs, and I would spend hours camped out in my fort in the backyard, voraciously circling all of the packets in the “Burpee magazine” that I wanted my dad to order for the garden until I nearly passed out from the overwhelming amount of options.
I will say that a lot of the seed catalogs out there can be extremely daunting. Before you even click one of the links below, I highly recommend sitting down and making a list of what you would like to grow this summer. (If you have kids or roommates that you’d like to help you in the garden, be sure to get them involved in this planning phase too!)
Depending on where you live, what you intend to plant, and how experienced of a gardener you are, seeds are often an excellent option for many crops, provided you follow a few guidelines.
What To Grow From Seed
If you’re planning on growing tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, strawberries, or woody herbs like thyme and rosemary this year and live somewhere with a short summer, it may be better to buy seedlings from your local nursery. If you want to grow peas, beans, cucumbers, squash, greens, or soft herbs like basil and cilantro (or are still determined to start the others from seed) then keep reading!
Grow What You’ll Eat
This seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised by how many people grow something “because a book said they should.” Don’t do this!
Instead, think about the foods you obsess over. Love cooking Italian cuisine? Plant tomatoes, parsley, peppers, onions, eggplant, or oregano. Add some cilantro to your garden and you’ve got your Mexican food bases covered as well!
From there, throw in cucumbers, a pot of lemongrass, some mint, and another basil variety- you’ll have all of your basic Thai flavors in the bag, without dialing for takeout.
I spent the first few summers in my current garden growing generically available heirloom tomatoes I bought at Home Depot and Lowe’s, only to be dismayed by the fact that I could find identical tomatoes at the farmer’s market.
These days, I couldn’t purchase most of what I grow at retail if I wanted to! Many fruit and vegetable varieties don’t ship well, or have high enough yields to be lucrative for farmers to sell at market. Use this to your advantage! Grow candy-flavored alpine strawberries in a windowbox, or a few mints in a pot for juleps and mojitos, or five different kinds of thyme!
Starting with the best ingredients is really the secret to becoming a better cook, and tasting flavors you’ve never experienced will keep you invested in your garden space, no matter the size.
Plant For Your Region
I think one of the most amazing things about saving seeds year to year is that last season’s environmental variables- things like weather, pest tolerance, and disease resistance- are etched into the DNA of each seed. Like, these conditions are literally recorded and “memorized” by the plant’s CPU throughout the growing season, then saved onto the seeds (which basically function as natural external USB drives!)
How cool is that??? By saving seeds from your best performing varieties, you literally raise your chances of success for next year’s garden. (Don’t worry- we’ll cover seed saving in another post later in the season.)
If you don’t have seeds saved to plant this year, you can do one of two things: find a seed swap or seed library in your area, or order from one of the seed catalogs below that grow their trial gardens as close to where you live as possible. (I’ve divided all of the catalogs into the regions where they are primarily grown to try and assist you with this.)
Of course, this isn’t a hard and fast rule by any means: if you see something you want to grow and it isn’t in your regional catalogs, feel free to play anyway! (I’ve ordered or grown from almost every catalog on this list, especially the Midwest and East Coast ones. Of course, I do garden in Southern California, so your mileage may vary.)
But enough talk… let’s dive into the catalogs! (Note: any affiliate links are denoted by an asterisk in the header and give me a tiny kickback if you decide to order through them.)
Not region specific, but an excellent, low risk, low cost, “getting your feet wet” place to try a bunch of different organic, non-GMO seed varieties if you’re growing indoors or out! Also some great pre-grouped selections in case you’re feeling overwhelmed by options.
Check out their: $0.99 Seed Selection, Variety Packs, Seed Banks
Adaptive Seeds (Oregon)
Specializes in rare and heritage varieties, as well as winter garden varieties. Most of their open pollinated seeds are adapted to the Pacific Northwest & other short season northern climates, and all are grown without chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides.
Check out their: Kale Cultivars, Perennial Vegetables, Garlic, Hot Weather Greens
Renee’s Garden (Northern California)
Offers “Safe Seed Pledge” varieties curated from an international selection especially for home gardeners, based on great flavor, easy culture and exceptional garden performance. Many varieties are also suitable for containers. (These were some of the first seeds that I ever bought for my current garden, and I still grab a few packs of the lettuces every now and then! I love that every packet includes complete growing instructions, a quick-view planting chart, growing tips, harvesting information and cooking ideas.)
Check out their: Lettuce Blends, Greens Blends, Nasturtium Cultivars
Bountiful Gardens (Northern California)
Only sell untreated, open-pollinated, non-GMO seed of heirloom quality for vegetables, herbs, flowers, grains, green manures, compost and carbon crops. They specialize in some of the tastiest varieties of edibles, as well as rare, endangered and unusual seed varieties, and offer many of their varieties as: Certified Organic (O); Natural (N); and Grow BiointensiveTM (GB) (sustainable organic).
Check out their: Biodynamic Collection, Drought Tolerant Crops, Permaculture Crops
Peaceful Valley (Northern California)
Dedicated to preserving the environment by providing you with cost-effective, state-of-the-art, organic growing supplies and the information and tools needed to apply them. Over 300 varieties of organic non-GMO vegetable seeds and nearly 100 varieties of flower seeds as well as gardening tools, potting soils, and organic fertilizer and pest control options.
Check out their: 50+ Varieties of Tomatoes, Cover Crops, “Save The Monarchs” Kits
Living Seed Company (Northern California)
Donates one collection for every ten sold to school gardens, youth groups, and other suitable charities. They also offer custom seed packets, allowing you to customize the copy and artwork of their seed packet to cater to your event or giveaway.
Take the guesswork out of this season with one of their Urban or Micro Garden Collections
All Good Things (Central California)
These guys are tiny but mighty! One of the newest exclusively organic kids on the block, they do on-farm grow-outs and trials of every variety they sell, listing only those that display vigor, productivity, disease resistance, and variety-specific uniformity. I’ve had fantastic success germinating all of their seeds that I’ve tried so far, so they must be doing something right!
Check out their: Varieties Grown at Mano Farm, Farm Original Varieties, Calendula Cultivars
Easy To Grow Bulbs (Southern California)
If you garden in zones 7-11 and are looking for the biggest, most beautiful flower bulbs for your garden, you’ve come to the right place! These guys focus on bulbs for warmer climate gardens, but if you have a greenhouse or sunny southeast facing window, then they may still have something up your alley! (I also included them because they are so amazing at giving back to their community, especially school gardens in my area.)
Check out their: Edibles, Herbs, and Spices
Native Seeds (Arizona)
Currently offer over 500 varieties of aridlands- adapted fruit, vegetable, herb and grain seeds, many of them rare or endangered, from the NS/S collection (which they grow out at their Conservation Farm in Patagonia, Arizona.) Anyone dealing with a drought in the forecast needs to check these guys out! They also promote the use of these ancient crops and their wild relatives by distributing seeds to traditional communities and to gardeners worldwide.
Check out their: Container and Monsoon Garden Collection, Chili Cultivars, Popcorn Cultivars
Seed Savers Exchange (Iowa)
Another one of the largest and most diverse catalogs of heirloom, organic, and open-pollinated vegetable, fruit, and herb seeds grown and preserved by both farmers and gardeners. Becoming a member gives access to a forum for questions as well as swapping with other members for even more varieties not available for sale.
Check out their: Heritage Apple Trees, Seed Potatoes, Ark of Taste Collection
Baker Creek Seed Company (Missouri)
Baker Creek works with a network of about 150 small farmers, gardeners, and seed growers year round in order to carry one of the largest selections of non-hybrid, non-GMO, non-treated, and non-patented seeds from the 19th century, including many Asian and European varieties. They currently offer over 1800 varieties from over 75 countries- and their catalog is GORGEOUS to boot. (Seriously. Order one.)
Check out their: Explorer Series, Roughwood Seed Collection, Winter Squash Cultivars
Sandhill Preservation Center (Iowa)
Small but still extensive collection of vegetable varieties, 90% of which they grow on site. Their website isn’t “pretty” and ordering can only be done BY SNAIL MAIL, but they have so many cultivars I’ve never even grown before! (Who knew there were more than a dozen types of beets or okra?) Definitely keeping these guys bookmarked.
Check out their: Native American Plains, Civil War Era, and Pioneer Garden Collections
Hudson Valley (New York)
Offers heirloom and open-pollinated seeds for vegetable, flower, and herb varieties produced on their farm or sourced from other local farmers, farmers in other regions, and from trustworthy wholesale seed houses that are not owned by or affiliated with multi-national biotech companies. In addition, they work with local artists to design some of the most beautiful seed packets on the market.
Check out their: Art Packs, Cold Loving Seed Sets, Basil Cultivars
High Mowing Seeds (Vermont)
100% certified organic and Non-GMO Project verified fruit, vegetable, herb, and flower seeds, with over 600 different varieties, many of which are grown on their 40 acre farm. Website is sensibly organized and easier to navigate than some, sorting varieties into categories such as “Easy To Grow” or “Suggested For Containers.”
Check out their: Southeastern Varieties, Cover Crops, Lettuce and Basil Cultivars
Exotics and Honorable Mentions
Kitazawa Seed: My go-to for hard to find Asian Vegetable Seeds
Richters: So many culinary and medicinal herbs you won’t know where to begin! (Their catalog is a fantastic reference material to have on hand and makes for excellent bedtime reading.)
Wild Boar Farms: Mindblowing Variety of Tomatoes
Territorial Seeds: Great Selection of Garlic and Potatoes
Tradewinds (Northern California): Extensive selection of rare and hard to find tropical fruit, spice, and heirloom fruit and vegetable seeds. Non-GMO but NOT organic certified. Often have a decent sale section as well.
Four Winds Growers (Northern California): Over 60 varieties of hard to find dwarf citrus trees suitable for container culture.
So tell me, seedlings… what are you planning on growing this year? 🙂.