1. Read the Label
Before you buy seeds, check the label to see if they require an early start indoors. Cool weather plants, such as pansy and broccoli, need a jump start indoors in order for them to grow large enough to be transplanted in the garden in the early spring. Warm-weather crops, such as tomatoes and peppers, also need to be started under grow-lights so they're ready to go into the garden after frost danger passes. A grow-light can be as simple as a fluorescent shop light hung just inches over your seed trays.
2. Buy Extra
Fast-growing vegetables, such as lettuce, radish, spinach and beans, can be planted several times throughout the spring and summer. Be sure to buy enough seeds for a continuous harvest.
Get our guide to succession planting.
3. Be Selective
If you're shopping for vegetable seeds, buy only what your family will eat. Don't take up valuable garden space with crops you won't use. Instead, buy only your favorites and try expanding your range each season with new varieties.
4. Consider your Space
If you have a small garden, don't start space-hogging vegetables, such as sweet corn, pumpkins, or squash. Focus on higher-yielding, more compact vegetables, such as salad greens, tomatoes, beans, and peppers.
5. Include Flowers
For quick color, choose fast-growing annual flowers you can grow from seed sown directly in the garden. Cosmos, zinnia, marigold, nasturtium, cleome, morning glory, and sunflower are just a few of the many annual flowers that grow effortlessly from seed.
6. Watch the Weather
Keep soil temperatures in mind when you plant seeds outdoors. Seeds sown in cold, wet soil will often rot. Cool-weather plants prefer soil temperatures of 50-65 degrees F. Warm-weather crops prefer to grow in soil between 70-80 degrees F. Also, do not set out warm-weather crops until all frost danger has passed. Check the USDA Zone map for details on your region.
7. Save Excess Seeds
Store surplus seeds in an airtight container in a dark, cool location. Many seeds will remain viable for several years stored in this manner. Before planting old seed, do a germination test. Sprinkle a few seeds on a moist paper towel to help them germinate. If less than half of your seeds sprout, buy new seed.
8. Keep Diseases at Bay
When shopping for seeds look for disease-resistant varieties, especially if you've had problems in your garden previously. For example, when purchasing tomato seeds, look for varieties labeled with a VFN designation after their name. This means the variety is resistant to several types of wilt and nematode damage.
9. Note Maturity Dates
If you want to grow vegetables, check the "days to harvest" information on the seed pack. Vegetable varieties vary in how long it takes for them to mature. If you live in a northern climate with a short growing season, focus on faster-maturing varieties to insure harvest before frost. In the South, you'll be able to grow plants, such as okra, that require a long season of hot weather.