One of the Joys of Maturity
Each year in November, I make a posting on our Senior Garden blog of seed suppliers we plan to use for the oncoming gardening season. We tend to use the same trusted suppliers year after year, but also try one or two new vendors each year.
November seems to be the beginning of the season for seed houses to start sending out catalogs to previous customers and those requesting catalogs. It varies by company, but we begin getting catalogs around the middle of November, with the last of our main ones coming in during January. Since we begin planting geranium seed in December and onions in January, we have to place the first of our orders by late November or early December! If you're planning on ordering from a seed company for the first time and need a catalog, it's a good idea to get your request in to them in early fall if possible.
Recommended Seed Suppliers
Our list of recommended seed suppliers is based on our recent and long-term experiences with the vendors listed, winnowed a bit using The Garden Watchdog ratings from Dave's Garden. Some of the relationships run back thirty or forty years or so! Others are more recent additions.
We shy away from seed houses that have been gobbled up by large, corporate conglomerates (Shumway being the lone exception), staying mostly with independent companies and a few still small, family owned and operated operations. All of our recommended suppliers have clearly stated in one way or another that they do not sell or intend to sell in the future Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
Rather than try to list our favorites in order, the listings are in alphabetical order. We've used each of them in the past year with mostly good experiences. Note that links, where possible, are to the vendor's catalog request page.
I'm always on the hunt for reliable vendors of quality seed, especially those that offer open pollinated varieties. If you know of one we should consider, .
Dropped from the List
I can't order from all my favorite seed houses every year. I just didn't need anything this year from either Heirloom Seeds or Scheepers. And sometimes, stuff happens. Generic Seeds shipped us some bad geranium seed this year. Territorial's president, Tom Johns, chose not to respond to my letter about their flat rate shipping (that had prevented my order this year). Rather then just drop previously trusted seed suppliers off our recommended list, I've moved them here for the time being. Maybe we'll use them again...or not.
There are some big name national and regional seed houses that aren't on our list of recommended suppliers. We've probably used them...and dropped them for cause. Surprisingly, some of the biggest names in the industry sell inferior seed, have bad attitudes with good customers, or in one case, simply have a thing about dealing with garden writers. So they get no mention here or elsewhere on this site.
I obviously have no experience in buying from the folks listed below, as they only ship to Canadian addresses. But each one comes with one or more positive recommendations from Senior Gardening Canadian readers. Some of our recommended suppliers, Johnny's immediately comes to mind, also ship seed into Canada. The Seeds of Diversity site has a great resource list of seed providers, including sources in Canada (Seeds of Diversity is a Canadian outfit.), the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.
I receive more reader suggestions about seed houses than I can afford to try. We haven't used any of the suggested vendors below, but all have good ratings from Dave's Garden Watchdog. As my seed budget permits, I hope to give a try sometime in the future.
After years of hunting a good supplier for pots, flats, inserts, hanging baskets and such, I've finally settled on the Greenhouse Megastore (DGW rating). We have placed several orders with them over the last few years. Each order arrived promptly, properly filled, and well packed. They also now carry the sturdy, but rather expensive Perma-Nest trays that make handling heavy flats full of moist planting medium much easier. Perma-Nest trays are solids, so I often slip a slotted 1020 tray inside the Perma-Nest tray to allow for some drainage.
While we're close to the subject of seeds and seed starting, I'll recommend a couple of seed starting products we use and are quite happy with. My original seedling heat mat was a Gro-Mat. While sold with a wire rack that keeps it from touching the bottom of seed flats, I use mine without the rack. Note that I also melted the center of a standard 1020 seed flat with it before I added an external thermostat to my setup! After that experience, I switched for 366 days to another, cheaper heat mat. It lasted exactly one day longer than its one year guarantee! With the addition of a thermostat, I went back to a new gro-mat and have been reasonably happy with that setup since. My original gro-mat still works, although I only use it with a thermostat attached or with the wire rack provided with it.
Our thermostat is a Hydrofarm Digital Thermostat. It's easy to set, hangs conveniently on a hook on our plant stand, and keeps our grow mat from melting things. I also noticed that the price for the unit hasn't changed much since we bought ours in 2009.
Gro-Mat brand heat mats became a bit hard to find online, as places like Park and Burpee Seed dropped them in favor of cheaper, inferior heat mats (based on my 366 day experience). Fortunately, the Greenhouse Megastore has picked up the brand for those who want something better than a cheapie, one year heat mat. They also carry some professional heat mats...larger and a good bit more expensive than gro-mats and other hobby level mats, but something possibly worth trying.
What got me writing about heat mats and thermostats when I originally wrote this page was taking cuttings from some ivy leaf geraniums and gloxinias. I wanted to provide a little bottom heat for the cuttings to root more quickly. Since I bottom water such things with warm water, the thermostat quickly let me know that we had all the heat we needed (86.9o F) when I turned it on. The thermostat was set at 75o F, so it kept the heat mat turned off until things cooled down a bit.
And of course, there may be a low-tech bottom heat solution somewhere around your house. One January when I started our geranium seed which requires some bottom heat for good germination, I used a warm shelf over a register that one of our cats had adopted. While probably not as even a heat as a heat mat and thermostat, the site worked quite well for germinating geranium seed and keeping the cat warm.
We had some negative experiences in 2013 with the quality of seed we received from some of our most trusted suppliers. We've had to adjust our ordering a bit due to the problems and consequently, our recommended suppliers list. Sadly, our experience seems symptomatic of a much larger problem across the entire garden seed industry.
Shipping Note - Promo Codes
It's not a bad idea to do a web search for coupon or promo codes for free shipping or other discounts from seed houses. If you're ordering just one or two packets of seed from a company, a free shipping code can make the difference between the order getting placed or being trimmed due to high shipping charges.
From Steve Wood, the at Senior Gardening
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Last updated 6/16/2014