Are cheaper vegetable and flower seeds just as good as more expensive seeds?

“Though I do not believe a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

From Faith in a Seed by Henry D. Thoreau.

Many of us are starting to think about seeds to plant in 2018. “What seeds do I have on hand, and what seeds do I need to buy?” “Can I put my faith in cheap seeds and save money without sacrificing quality?”

Seed packet prices can range from less than $1 to $5 based on the plant species, how expensive it was to produce, level of customer service, packet size, time of year purchased, and many other factors.

The good news is that the least expensive seeds for a particular species and cultivar (e.g., basil ‘Italian Large Leaf’) will typically produce the same results as planting the most expensive seeds. The reason is that we have a well-regulated seed industry. Federal and state laws and regulations ensure that all commercially available farm and garden seeds are properly tested for purity, noxious weed seeds, and germination rate.

The Federal Seed Act (1939) requires accurate labeling and purity standards for seeds in commerce and prohibits the importation and movement of adulterated or misbranded seeds. Seed packets in the commercial trade must have the species, cultivar, “year packed for” date, and meet federal minimum germination standards.

The Maryland Seed Law (1912) pre-dates the Federal law. The Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Turf and Seed Section “conducts regulatory and service programs, including seed inspection, testing, certification and quality control services, designed to ensure the continued availability of high-quality seed to Maryland’s seed consumers. Maryland’s seed inspectors visit both retail and wholesale seed dealers throughout the state. Lots found in violation of the Maryland Seed Law are placed under a stop sale order until they are brought into compliance. “

Less expensive seed must meet the same minimum germination standard as expensive seed.

In this photo, the “packed for” date lets you know that the seed was harvested in 2014 and packaged for sale in 2015. If the seed did not sell it could have been re-tested in 2015 and re-packaged for sale in 2016 (if it met the minimum germination standard).
This packet of non-hybrid Chinese cabbage seed contains around 500 seeds and costs $1.60. The germination rate is 82%.
The packet contains around 100 seeds (1/64 of an ounce) and costs $4.25. The germination rate is 98%.

Some ways to save money on seeds:

  • Save your own seeds from open-pollinated cultivars (non-hybrids which produce seeds that will grow into plants identical to the “mother” plant).
  • Participate in local seed swaps and seed exchanges.
  • Comparison shop at local retail stores and on seed company websites.
  • Purchase smaller, less expensive seed packets, or purchase larger quantities for better price breaks and store extra seeds in a cool, dry location over the winter.
  • Seeds are often reduced in price in late summer and early fall at garden centers, hardware stores, and big national chain stores.

Check out HGIC’s resources on starting seeds indoors!

By Jon Traunfeld, Director, Home and Garden Information Center 

5 thoughts on “Are cheaper vegetable and flower seeds just as good as more expensive seeds?

  1. tonytomeo December 22, 2017 / 12:02 pm

    Yep! AlthoughI do not mind paying a bit more for unusual varieties if I really want them, most of my favorite vegetables and flowers are the old common varieties that happen to be the least expensive.

  2. pjbennett24 December 24, 2017 / 4:31 am

    Great article and Merry Christmas Jon!

  3. lucyg22 January 12, 2019 / 5:24 pm

    This is a little misleading. I believe it is accurate that seeds **for a particular species and cultivar**, as the article says, will perform the same regardless of price. But the two photos of cabbage seed, which differ significantly in price, are not the same. It’s reasonable to expect that an F1 hybrid will perform differently and will cost more to produce. It would be better to illustrate the point with 2 brands of seed for the same plant that are priced differently.

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