Every year, I look forward to the stack of seed catalogs that arrive when the weather gets cold. They’re just brimming with beautiful pictures of flowers, vegetables, herbs, trees…just about everything I could want for my yard. They’re truly the highlight of my winter – until I start adding up what it is I’d like to spend.

Container among herbs

Buying seed in bulk for your herb garden can keep it well-seasoned for months on end.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Bulk seeds

When you receive your bulk seeds, divide them into smaller envelopes and mark each packet with the name and year of purchase to easily identify them later. Then simply store the seeds in a cool, dry spot to keep them dormant until you’re ready to plant.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Red hibiscus

You can save a lot of money on annuals or exotic plants if you order rooted plugs with your family, friends or neighbors.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Crimson Snow iris

Some companies that sell plants, bulbs or rhizomes offer quantity discounts.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Thankfully, I’ve found a clever little way to save money while still getting all the seeds I want: I combine my order with friends and buy seeds in bulk. If you’re ordering heirloom seeds or open-pollinated varieties, the discount can be significant!

Where do you find companies that offer bulk discounts? You can look online, of course. Many companies have Websites that allow you to compare varieties and prices. Companies like Totally Tomatoes and Tomato Growers Supply Co. both carry a wide variety of tomato seeds, as well as peppers and eggplants, in both large discount quantities and in smaller packets. The Vermont Bean Seed Co. carries over 100 varieties of bean seeds and other vegetable seeds, while Comstock, Ferre & Co. carries a wide variety of both flower and vegetable seeds in larger quantities.

After you decide which seed varieties you want, compare prices by dividing the total price by the number of seeds to determine the price per seed. For example, several seed companies might show that 1/32-ounce packet of tomatoes contains at least 250 seeds. If you order that pack for $6, you could end up paying less than 2½ cents per seed. If you split that pack with two friends, you each get 75 seeds or more for $2, as opposed to each of you purchasing an individual package of 30 seeds for $2.50. As you can see, the difference can add up fast!

So what do you do with the extra seeds if you don’t need all 75 in one season? If you store them correctly, many seeds can remain viable for years. Just place them in paper bags or plastic containers with lids and add a desiccant (those small packs marked “Do not eat” that you find inside new purses or shoe boxes to keep moisture out). Then place the seed packages in the refrigerator until you’re ready to plant them. The seeds will interpret the constant chill as a sign of a very long winter and remain dormant.

Before you plant, pull your seeds out and test them to see if they’re viable: Wrap a few seeds in a wet paper towel and place them in a plastic bag. Keep them at room temperature, and check the seeds every few days to see if they’ve sprouted. If they do, they’re ready to plant. If not, you’ll need to order more.

What if you don’t have the time (or patience) to start plants from seed? Another option – and a great way to save money – is to order a larger number of plants with your family, friends and neighbors and divide the cost. Some growers like North Carolina Farms Inc. carry a wide variety of rooted plugs in trays of 105. (Select “rooted” to see pictures of the different varieties of annuals, such as lantana, hibiscus or petunias.) Schreiner’s Iris offers a 50 percent discount when either ordering collections or by ordering in quantity. The key is to search around online and find a nursery that works out best for you and your needs. (And don’t overlook your own local garden centers and growers – they might offer discounts if a group of your friends are willing to buy in bulk.)

So ask your gardening friends if they’d like to save a few bucks with you this season – then enjoy looking through catalogs and Websites to find out which companies can offer quantity discounts. With a little planning, you can save money and grow a wider variety of flowers, vegetables and herbs to enjoy all season long – for less!