9 ways to save on garden seeds this spring

Between supply chain shortages spawned by the pandemic, inflation, and increased demand for home garden seeds, you may find your budget for flower and vegetable seeds doesn’t go as far as it did a few years ago.

Take a multi-pronged approach to saving money on seeds when you garden in the Atlanta area. Here are nine ideas.

Plan your garden before you buy seeds

There are dozens if not hundreds of free garden planners online, like this one from Better Homes and Gardens.

While they’re also a fun way to pass the time in winter while dreaming of your garden, if you base your plans on your available space, you’ll quickly realize that you probably don’t have enough room for plants from dozens of seed packets, only a few.

Browse local nurseries for seeds first

This will help you save on online-purchase shipping, which can cost more than the seeds themselves, and also learn which herbs, flowers, and vegetables are best suited to the Atlanta area.

Consider buying tomato plants, not seeds

Purchased transplants will usually save you money compared to sowing seeds, especially since they eliminate the cost of the heat, artificial light, water, and growing mix involved in starting tomato plants indoors.

Of course, if a seed packet yields even one plant and the plant produces even a couple of sizable tomatoes, you’ll save money on groceries compared to buying fresh tomatoes at the store.

But you’ll still incur costs from starting the plants inside.

Even in Georgia with its long, hot growing season, sowing tomato seeds directly into the garden is not advisable since they can take at least six weeks to grow into decent-size seedlings and another 60-90 days to produce tomatoes, depending on the variety, according to the nonprofit Seed Savers Exchange.

Cherokee Purple tomatoes, for example, should be sown six weeks ahead of transplanting them to the garden and will produce ripe tomatoes 75-90 days from transplant, according to SSE.

If you plant those seeds directly in the garden or a container outside, you’ll need anywhere from 117-132 days before you can harvest. By the time you’re picking maters, the summer will be almost over.

If you have the time and the resources, of course, you can start seeds indoors beginning about six weeks ahead of the last average frost date.

But you’ll find that many of the more popular hybrids and even some heirloom seeds are pricey. Cherokee Purple can cost $3.75 for a packet of 25 seeds or $11.81 for 250 seeds.

The recently introduced Burpee Steakhouse variety that produces three-pound tomatoes 80 days from transplanting, for example, costs $8.81 for a 25-seed packet purchased via Amazon, and the company’s packet of Cherokee Purple costs around $7.26 for 50 seeds on Amazon.

Sun Gold hybrid cherry tomatoes run about $8.33 for 30 seeds on Amazon.

For about the same price, you can buy a couple of live plants, or even a four-pack, from local growers or the farmer’s market.

Stone Mountain-based Hall’s Garden Center, for example, sells live four-packs of tomatoes for around $4 starting in April, while their single plants in larger containers cost about $3 each.

Gardeners can shop at its greenhouse or purchase online for pick up and delivery to select areas near Atlanta.

Order from a single source online

This may not save you seed money, but it will keep you from racking up shipping charges, which can be brutal.

South Carolina-based Seeds ‘N Such is one good option because it has a wide variety of seeds for home gardeners and also ships to U.S. addresses at a flat rate of $5.99 per order.

Plant open-pollinated flowers and vegetables so you can save seeds

You may fall in love with a certain hybrid petunia or patented tomato, and that’s fine! But if you’re into gardening for the long haul, you may want to stick with open-pollinated, heirloom varieties so you can save the seeds to plant for the following year.

You could save seeds from, say, hybrid acorn squash and try to plant them the next season, but the offspring may not grow true to the parent plant.

“Hybridized seeds [could] come back the same or different,” Bevin Cohen, a Sanford, Michigan, farmer and author told AARP. “When cross-pollination happens, each grain of pollen comes from different sources, so each of those seeds is going to be slightly genetically different.”

If you’re new to seed-saving, in addition to saving seeds from open-pollinated varieties, you may want to start with the ones that have big, easy-to-save seeds. Beans, peas, okra, marigolds, zinnias, and sunflowers are all in that category.

Tap into free or low-cost milkweed seeds from Live Monarch

If you’re interested in growing milkweed to encourage monarch butterflies, the Blairsville-based Live Monarch organization offers 15 free milkweed or other butterfly garden seeds via the U.S. postal service when you follow the directions on their website and send in a self-addressed stamped envelope.

It’s also possible to purchase low-cost seeds in larger increments by ordering online. Prices start at $5.90 for 150 seeds.

The group asks that seed seekers get a look at the details of their giveaway via the website to decrease headaches for their staff.

Save locally via the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin

While you will incur an initial outlay of $10 per year to subscribe to the Georgia Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin, your savings will quickly offset the start-up cost.

The bulletin publishes thousands of monthly classifieds, and many of them are low-cost or even free seedlings and seeds for regional flowers, tomatoes, pole beans and the like.

Get a free packet of native wildflower seeds from Alt National Park Service

If you’re just starting with native landscaping or wish to plant a container garden with Black-Eyed Susans or Butterfly Milkweed, head to the Alt National Park Service’s website and sign up to receive a free packet of either flower. Both attract airborne pollinators and the milkweed draws certain butterflies to the garden.

Check out seed libraries at Sequoyah Regional public libraries

Gardeners in Cherokee and Gilmer counties can obtain seeds from branch libraries that maintain seed libraries on a first-come, first-served basis.

Participating public libraries include R.T. Jones Memorial in Canton, Gilmer County Library in Ellijay, and Ball Ground Public Library in Ball Ground and Rose Creek.

These community seed libraries also welcome donations of properly saved current-season seeds or smaller packets divided from larger packets if you have extras to pass along.

Be sure to call ahead of time since availability varies.

The AJC may receive a commission for purchases made through some links in this article.