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1. Comparison Shop
Not all seed catalogs and websites are created equal in terms of pricing and selection. So if you don't find what you need in the first one—or if pricing seems a bit steep—be sure to peruse a variety of catalogs and their corresponding websites (like the 15 listed here!) to compare.
2. Start Browsing Early
Start seed shopping in winter so you can work out the details of your seed-sowing and transplanting schedule. Pro tip: Download and fill out this handy seed-starting chart to help you figure out when to germinate and when to plant your seedlings.
Related: A Simple Step-By-Step Guide To Starting Your Own Seeds
3. Know Your Zone
Look for catalogs or websites that specialize in plants that grow well in your specific region of the country. Most will list the appropriate hardiness zone(s) for each plant. See what zone you're in by entering your zip code here. Also, realize that the number of days to maturity quoted in catalogs is an estimate. The actual number of days may be slightly different for your area.
4. Have A Vision For Your Garden
Weigh the amount of variety you want versus the price of the seed packets. Small seed packets of individual plants are reasonably priced but only contain one type of plant. Seed mixtures give you many types of plants in a single packet but usually cost significantly more. You also need to decide between hybrids and open-pollinated cultivars. Hybrids may produce earlier harvests and higher yields, but open-pollinated cultivars may taste better, produce over a longer season, and usually cost less. (Read up on the difference between hybrids and genetically engineered plants.)
5. Avoid Chemicals
Watch out for seeds that are treated with synthetic chemical fungicide. When ordering, specify untreated seeds. Organic (and many heirloom) seeds are a good bet.
Related: What's Better: Organic Or Heirloom?
6. Make Sure You And Your Plants Are A Match
Choose cultivars that have qualities that are important to you, such as plant size, habit, and tolerance of your soil conditions. Consider looking for All-America Selections because these tend to grow and produce well in a variety of conditions.
7. Save Your Catalogs
Finally, keep all of your seed catalogs for guidance and growing recommendations once you begin planting.