Cheap Seeds Are Expensive

by Stephanie Suesan Smith on August 10, 2010

Cheap seeds are expensive.  They cost a great deal in wasted time, money, fertilizer, water, and space.  This is because the germination rate, or number of seeds in each packet that actually sprout, is usually very low.  You plant seeds and do all the right things, but nothing happens.

Seeds that are carefully saved from plants you or some other gardener grew and then planted are not the problem.  No, there are too major situations where cheap seeds cause grief.  The first is the “closeout seed” and the second is the “too good to be true” seed.

Closeouts of seeds are usually held at the end of the calendar growing season.  For example, flower seeds are sold at the end of summer when back to school stuff is flooding stores.  Because seed sold by reputable growers is packed and sold the same year, few bother to hold any over.  They put it on sale, and the sales can be first rate.

The problem is that then the seed must be saved a year before it is planted.  Seed will keep under the right conditions for many years, but it is rarely kept in those conditions in a home.  So the germination rates fall to the single digits and the cheap seed doesn’t turn out to be so cheap.  All the effort and inputs (fertilizer, water, mulch) were wasted.  Spending a dollar for a new packet versus ten cents for an old one doesn’t look so foolish now.

The second problem is the “too good to be true” seed.  These are almost exclusively catalog and internet sellers that buy lots of seed at the end of the growing season.  They repackage it and then hold it in a warehouse somewhere until the next growing season.  Seeds are sold in large packages for very low prices.  Sometimes you can get a whole garden for ten or twenty dollars.

Again, the problem is the less than optimal storage, not to mention the less than optimal ethics of the seller.  Seed is alive, and deteriorates when not cared for properly.  You can plant a huge package of the seed and get one or two plants, and those don’t produce well.  Off to a bad start, they struggle all season.  Remember what you have been taught:  if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Although the seed catalogs are wonderful to look at, for the most part, the best seeds are from local farm and ranch or nursery places.  They have to deal with customers in person who have poor stands of plants.  Make sure you pick one that sells enough seed so that they reorder each spring for vegetables and whenever the flowers you want are to be planted.  Avoid the big box stores as they may stock varieties that do not grow as well in your area.  Then you can feel superior while you hand extra produce to the fellow who bought the cheap seeds.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Texasholly August 10, 2010 at 8:37 pm

I never thought of that! Interesting how scams can be found anywhere…even in the garden.


Refrigerators August 11, 2010 at 4:36 am

Seeds are really running out right now especially the native and the natural ones. All of the seeds sold in stores right now are bio-technologically motivated. Hope time will come that seeds would be restored. I do agree that cheap seeds are getting expensive because those seeds are getting rare. Hope the word seed bank could put a remedy to this. Nice blog. =) Keep writing.


gifts for the garden August 11, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Totally agree. When in doubt go with Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They’re the best!


Stephanie Suesan Smith August 12, 2010 at 5:10 am

I have heard of them. I use Seeds of Change or Seed Savers.


Local Florist August 12, 2010 at 2:58 am

Yeah you’re right, those cheap seeds are really expensive because also it has low quality and therefore low germination rate. Sometimes its price will tell you what its quality is, therefore as a buyer, you must be aware and choose the right one that could satisfy your need.


Stephanie Suesan Smith August 12, 2010 at 5:14 am

As I said, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So price can steer you wrong if that is all you evaluate. The grower information is stamped on the packet, make sure it is a reputable grower and it was packaged for the current season.


Refrigerators November 24, 2010 at 4:23 am

Very true. it is one of the major scams today..
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Refrigerator November 30, 2010 at 2:05 am

Such a brave context. Appreciate your work Steph 🙂
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DollarSeed March 19, 2011 at 8:44 am

Okay, I have to agree with most of what is stated here. But there are some things to consider. Big seed houses have people who put old seed back into the bin to repackage for the next year. Here at DollarSeed, we donate our left over seeds to pantry growers to help feed the hungry, and start fresh each new year. We also don’t have those fancy packages with all the pretty flowers and such. Our seeds are in ziplock packaging, so keeping them for later or sharing is a breeze. We may not have the large selections of the big guys, but we tell you how many to expect in each pack, when they don’t. Visit our website, and see what makes us different.
You may fall in love with fresh inexpensive/cheap quality seeds yet!


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