If you are a gardener, you probably look forward to receiving seed catalogs overflowing with images of fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers. In the midst of winter, it might be tempting to order from the first catalog you receive, but that might not be the wisest choice. With careful consideration, you can find the seed company that best meets your needs and provides seeds that will grow best in your area.
Check the location of the seed company and determine the USDA zone for that area. Plant descriptions and images reflect the area in which the plants were grown. Notes indicating trial runs or field-tested varieties refer to that region. If the USDA zone is different from your zone, your results are likely to vary from those described in the catalog. Choose a seed company that offers seeds for plants in your zone. Although a difference of a zone or two might not matter, a northern gardener will not be able to grow the same plants as southern gardeners.
Check for guarantees on seeds that do not germinate. Reputable seed companies are not afraid to guarantee their product and will offer reimbursement or replacement should their seeds not perform as expected.
Look for companies that specialize in the type of seed that interests you. Companies that specialize in heirloom seed are likely to offer the highest-quality in heirlooms as they generally have more experience and devote more resources to developing their own heirloom seeds. Bulb companies might have more expertise in breeding quality bulbs than a small company that offers a few bulbs along with a variety of other seeds.
Select a company that specializes in unusual plants or vegetables if your desire is to grow plants that are not found in mainstream seed catalogs. Specialty seeds purchased from a company that has the time and resource to devote to developing the highest-quality seed often perform better than those purchased from general seed catalogs.
Seek the advice of experienced gardeners in your area. Most can recommend companies that have proven reliable with seed that performs well in your specific area. Many nurseries and greenhouses may also be able to refer you to reliable companies.