One of the most frequently posted questions on the Master Gardener Volunteer (MGV) Program's social media pages is "where can I get the seeds?" Here are our suggestions for finding seed, especially for difficult-to-find species and varieties:
Home and garden stores: Home and garden stores usually have a selection of seed at the beginning of the spring growing season and some stores also stock seed at the beginning of Florida's fall growing season. Seed offered here is usually quality and has high germination rates. Be careful though — varieties offered at nationwide "big box" stores may not be well-suited for your area. The Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide has a list of varieties recommended for Florida; consult this before you purchase to be sure the variety offered is a good choice for the Sunshine State. Just because it's sold in Florida doesn't mean it thrives in Florida.
Seed catalogues: Most seed sellers offer a free catalogues with a selection of their most popular varieties. You can search "seed catalog" online and sign up to receive dozens in a matter of minutes. These catalogues usually include a picture of the plant, flower, or vegetable and are a good source of information. Look for phrases like "fungus resistant" and "heat tolerant." Traits like these are especially important when gardening in Florida; again, check the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide's list of recommended varieties. You can order by mail or online after viewing the catalogue's selections.
Seed exchanges: These organizations vary, but a typical seed exchange collects heirloom seed from growers and gardeners and offers it back to the communities at cost. Many are non-profit, primarily concerned with keeping a variety of heirloom seed lines available around the state or country. Some of the bigger seed exchanges also have catalogues. Smaller seed exchanges are often region specific. While they may offer a more limited selection of seeds, the varieties they do have are tried and true for your area.
Seed libraries: In Florida, many public libraries have on-site seed banks, or "seed-lending libraries." They may receive seed donated from companies or from local growers and gardeners. Anyone with a library card can make withdrawals from the seed library, and the labeling and organization is usually very good. Sometimes libraries also host seed swaps for county residents. Contact your local library for details about programs in your area.
Local seed sellers: Finding a source for seed can start to feel like treasure hunting, but never underestimate your local resources. Small farms have been known to sell heirloom seed and plants, and independent seed growers exist in some areas of the state. Ask the sellers at your local farmer's market if they know of a local seed seller. An internet search like "heirloom seed [your city], Florida" can usually point you in the right direction, too. The good news is that, if you find a grower in your area, it's a safe bet that the varieties they carry will be a good fit for your local climate, too.
Seed swaps: Seed swaps are the most informal of all the seed sources; individual seed-savers bring their collections and trade for varieties they find interesting. Some swaps are organized or hosted locally by libraries or garden clubs. Others are perpetually swapping through online groups and on social media platforms. These swaps are usually free, or cost only postage (SASE, a self-addressed stamped envelope, is a common request on online seed swaps). While the quality of swapped seed is a wild card, these events and groups do offer an economical way for gardeners to branch out.
What to avoid: Success or failure with a new plant often comes down to the quality of the seed. When possible, try to get this year's seed from reliable dealer or another trusted source. If the quality of the seed is in doubt, you can check the germination rates by sowing some in a wet paper towel a few weeks before you would sow outdoors.
At home and garden stores, seed stored in paper packets and displayed outside are unlikely to be top quality. Likewise, if you want to save for next year, avoid seed that doesn't have a species label or that is labeled "hybrid." The seed collected from these plants will not be like its parent plant. In all cases, avoid seed that is more than a couple years old or of an unknown age (few seeds are as lucky as Methuselah the date palm).
Finally, while planting the seeds that come with your fresh produce is always a fun experiment, know that Florida's climate presents unique challenges. Many varieties that grow well elsewhere in the country don't survive our relentless heat and humidity.
We at the Master Gardener Volunteer Program do not endorse or recommend any particular seed seller, but we do encourage you to contact your local MGVs to see what local or national sources they have found most reliable for your location and climate. To ask the MGVs, or to find out more about local seed sources and seed saving, contact your county Extension office.