mxk3

What is going on with the seed companies?

mxk3
last month
last modified: last month

Hoping some industry folks can chime in here. I am puzzled as to what's going on this year. There is a noticeable decrease in the selection available, both flowers and vegetables, but particularly flowers. If it were one or two companies I'd chalk it up to particulars of those companies, but it seems as though most of the suppliers I use don't have near what has been available in the past (there is a dramatic difference in Swallowtail). Even something as basic as marigolds and vinca. Anyone know what's going on and general trends going forward? It is disappointing, but more than that -- I'm saddened by this.

Comments (27)

  • PRO
    Restoration Organics

    It's hard to say as their are many vendors across the US. If you want to attract pollinators, use local, native species to feed those native butterflies in your ecoregion.

    Remember, the native flora species that have evolved and adapted to your ecoregion provide food and habitat for the pollinators in your area. Bringing in exotics or even cultivars, most likely will not be recognizable, or even bloom at the proper time the butterflies are looking for nectar.

    That's the only thing when trying to create a habitat for a desired species of fauna, local natives are hands down the best. The main concern with cultivars is that they evolved by artificial selection for specific characteristic traits that benefit us, not wildlife. So this leads to the question, what if any, traits were "knocked-out" that would have benefited wildlife? It's hard to tell without extensive research.

  • PRO
    Restoration Organics

    For seeds of natives, I recommend reaching out to conservation organizations or native plant non-profit groups in your area. Always great resources.

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  • noki33

    I've noticed that a lot of older seed companies have been bought out and consolidated, They seem bland and similar, many are owned by the same parent, fewer choices so I don't bother much with them. Search out for independent sources, and see if they have anything different.

    Not sure which you are referring to, and I don't look for annual flower seeds but in general (all stuff, not just garden) retail choices has gone down the last 20 years, Fewer suppliers, fewer chains, fewer smaller stores results in streamlined fewer choices. Walmart, Lowe's, Home Depot don't offer a very wide choice, so maybe the flower seed growers cannot afford to offer as wide as selection.


  • Jamie

    It’s likely also a response to market pressure. Plant varieties come into and out of fashion all the time. A lot of people consider plants like marigolds to be uninteresting filler type plants and no longer buy or grow them. (Look at the fiddle leaf fig craze that peaked a while back when all of the Instagrammers were scrambling to get one)

    there will always be a market for these kinds of plants but it might not be large enough to sustain a large number of different varieties.

  • docmom_gw

    I wonder if there is a market or population that would allow for the development of a community of gardeners that could maintain and share more diverse plant varieties. I have been a fan of the Seed Savers Exchange model for years. Those gardeners propagate literally thousands of varieties of plants via seed saving from individual gardens. But, you can only gain access to many of the seeds via membership and making seeds/plants from your garden available to other members. I don’t know what sorts of plants you are looking for, but you might try SSE.

    I’m sure there are groups on FaceBook that serve similar functions, but I have not found the need to search them out.

    Good luck.


    Martha

  • PRO
    Restoration Organics

    @docmom_gw SSE is a great resource!

  • zen_man

    Hi mxk3,

    " I am puzzled as to what's going on this year. There is a noticeable decrease in the selection available, both flowers and vegetables, but particularly flowers. ...but it seems as though most of the suppliers I use don't have near what has been available in the past (there is a dramatic difference in Swallowtail). "

    I have not seen the decline you report. Swallowtail offers over 1400 varieties this year.

    All of the catalogs I have received in the mail are at least as large as what I received last year. A few companies (I think Johnny's is one of them) have two versions of their print catalog--a lighter smaller version for mass mailing and a complete version for registered customers.

    ZM

  • mxk3

    ^^ It probably depends what you're looking for if you've noticed the difference or not. Am aware there are two versions of Johnny's and Stokes -- I have the larger ones. For some reason I got off Stokes' "commercial" (i.e. non-home gardener) list when they re-did things a year or two ago and now have to call to request the larger catalog.

  • zen_man

    Hi mxk3,

    I wasn't aware Stokes had a larger catalog. It has been a few years since I put in a Stokes seed order, so I am off their mailing list. At one time I did buy zinnia seeds from Stokes in large quantities in support of my zinnia breeding hobby..

    I have grown lots of zinnias in search of mutations, and I have been reasonably successful in obtaining new flower forms in my zinnias.


    I am currently working on zinnias with very narrow tube-like petals.

    Crossing various mutations with each other can yield yet new unexpected zinnia flower forms. Zinnias are an interesting hobby for me.

    ZM

  • rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

    OMG, Zen....these examples of your work are incredible! I'm dazzled by the last one, looks so much like a sea anemone.

  • zen_man

    Hi Rhizo,

    I do especially like the last one, and it reminds me of a sea anemone, too.; As far as I know, those very narrow tubular petals are new to zinnias, at least in "modern" times. I suppose they could have some prehistoric ancestors. These are few more examples.





    Well, technically that last one is not a needle petaled specimen. But I have had many more variations on the needle petaled theme.

    I intend to grow a lot of these and inter-cross them. I read somewhere that DNA spirals contain fragments of long lost non-functional genes, and that hybridization of different combinations can occasionally recombine gene fragments to form a new functional gene. I think that may have happened in more than one case in my willy-nilly hybridizations.

    I have even had some odd looking zinnia seeds.

    I do have a lot of fun breeding zinnias. And I have found that zinnias can be full of surprises.

    ZM

  • Lisa Adams

    Zen man, I’m always so impressed with your breeding results! I wish those needle petaled zinnias were available for purchase. The way you’re going, maybe someday they will! I’ll be first in line, if that ever does happen. The one you refer to as technically “not a needle petaled specimen” is outstanding! They are all so special and lovely. Lisa

  • noki33

    Zin_man more like, your 3rd flower pic along does look like a sea anemone in water with a sponge behind!

  • JustaGuy17

    Which companies are you referring too? I haven't noticed that, but I may have just been missing something.

  • mxk3

    ^^ I really noticed it with Swallowtail and Stokes this year.

  • bellflower

    'Rationalising' the inventory is a trend which has been in evidence for the last half century. A cursory look at catalogues from the 20s, 30s and even the 50s shows a decline in variety right across the boards. The market for mature plants has usually consisted of specialist nurseries, who maintain variety of certain plants, alongside garden centres, which offer a reduced choice - sometimes only 1 or 2 varieties of each species...but seed companies have always had more scope to offer a wide selection. Looking at Carter seeds, for example, they would have offered 30-40 different antirrhinums, zinnia or wallflowers but these days, the choices are always more restricted. However, there are some merchants who specialise - heirloom tomatoes comes to mind, where there is a definite effort to keep old and valued varieties still in the market, but on average, most general seed companies offer less choice than they did back when seed sowing was one of the main methods of acquiring plants. The trend towards plug plants, even for easy annuals, does not bode well for our future choices, particularly since homogeneity has been a driver for growers.

  • Jay 6a Chicago

    I don't have any problems building up a huge selection of seeds from many sources. That's the way to get things nowadays. Ebay and Amazon are etsy all carry seeds from growers everywhere. I guess if you are dependent on getting all your seeds from one company things might look dismal. It seems to me like the seeds sold now at the big stores are of a more limited selection. Bellflower, you obviously collect an Absurd amount of seeds. Do YOU have a list of impossible to find seeds? My 'impossible 'list is very long. It's so fulfilling tho when I finally find one and cross it off. Like right now, thank you Lord! Getting back to the big stores the seed selection is boring and outdated. Last year I wanted to have a large bed with a bunch of different Zinnia cvs. (Zenman). I had to run to several stores to acquire 'enough'? Zinnia seeds. I think I joined the seed savers exchange thinking that I might be able to get seeds of rare natives, but their selection is boring too. I don't grow vegetables which they are big on. So, you can probably get 'almost' all your seeds if you seriously look into multiple sources. And then buy more seeds to dull the pain of the ones you can't find. :( I didn't go overboard this time. More like I was catapulted right off the frickin ship. haha, been airborne for miles lol. Really mostly, I also get the majority of my seeds from trades with friends and any organized seed swaps that happen. I've started seriously collecting seeds of my plants to use in trades. This is great to do with other native plant enthusiasts. There are so many species that trading helps increase everyone's diversity. I don't understand why we can't use emojis? Just a mention, the butterfly gardeners here are another bunch of kind, generous peeps that love to trade seeds and plants also and even just give freely! ♡ The more host plants, the better.


  • mxk3

    I'm really leery of ordering seeds off Amazon, Ebay, or Etsy unless I can find some reviews not affiliated with those websites. I want what I want, I don't want to take a chance that stuff isn't going to come true. It's not that I'm not open to ordering from smaller companies, it's just with all the counterfeits and junk being sold on Ebay and now Amazon I don't want to be bothered with that garbage. In fact, speaking of smaller companies, I placed an order from Remy's (sample seeds), which I've never heard of, based on a recommendation here because it was difficult to find seeds of nierembergia -- which used to be a staple in the seed catalogues.

    I guess I'm just dismayed at the general state of things -- I think Bell summed it up when she mentioned homogeneity being a driver for growers. Sigh...

  • Jay 6a Chicago

    I've never gotten any wrong seeds from any of those places, but I do thoroughly check out the venders and reviews before ordering seeds or plants. I learned that the hard way when I had to wait about 6 months for seeds coming from China...oops! Actually there are a lot of little small time growers who sell only one, two, or a few different seeds of their favorite , sometimes rare and unusual plants that they love. Why not? There's a couple plants that I'm growing that don't have seeds for them available. Just maybe a couple times I've gotten from who knows where and they didn't germinate at all, but there's a chance it may have been my error, but doubtful, who knows. I think if I was ordering all my seeds from 1 or 2 big companies then I would feel totally out of the loop. I take chances with those big 3 online giants, and it's more than paid off for me. Don't let fear hold you back, but always look for quality seeds from ethical sources that are harvested sustainably. Or, make friends with peeps that are growing the specimens you crave. hehe

  • Jay 6a Chicago

    Mxk3, I don't understand what you mean about finding reviews not associated with those sites? Usually every vender on them has their own reviews about their service and quality. The only connection to the site is that's where they are located. Apparently it's probably easier, and less of a headache to sell their seeds from one of those places.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    " I take chances with those big 3 online giants, and it's more than paid off for me. Don't let fear hold you back, but always look for quality seeds from ethical sources that are harvested sustainably."

    Which removes pretty much anything that originates from Asia. Not only do they generally not sell US natives, they often sell (and heavily promote) seeds and plants that do not actually exist in real life - there was a long thread earlier last season that addressed just this topic and with comments from many who were duped by them - and they seldom adhere to any APHIS regulations, making their importation into the US illegal. Not to mention non-existent customer service..........

    Stick with local (US) and recognized seed companies or those reputable foreign entities that sell actual packaged seed in this country and it's hard to go wrong.

  • Jay 6a Chicago

    It's funny, I see them selling plant and animals that don't exist and I (seriously) have seen them selling part plant. part animal mutations, and I'm certain that I was not hallucinating. I saw a Phoenix bird with lion paws for sale. 2 things, I already had a couple varieties of seeds for tropical milkweed, aka A. curassavica, aka A. nivea var curassavica. I think I got some supposed curassavica seeds from china and they are much tinier than my other curassavica seeds. I also screwed up and ordered Senna obtusifolia seeds from China in desperation. They took do long I lost faith and while I waited a generous person sent me obtusifolia seeds from their plants. When the Chinese seeds did finally did arrive they were also much smaller than the seeds grown here. I'm thinking it's good if a vender has some history, and has been selling for awhile. If they don't have any history they could be some fly by night rip off scam.

  • mxk3

    Jay -- let's say a seller is on Ebay but also has an actual website e.g. Build dot com. In which case I can read the reviews about the actual company and then order something off Ebay if its some sort of deal (usually isn't, though). There was an example with a seed company recently, but I don't recall the name because I didn't order the seed -- too expensive. Back in the day Ebay was great, but I rarely order anything off there anymore, and never anything that originates from China (China = odds are it's a fake). Amazon is getting dicey unless it's fulfilled by Amazon -- heard a story on NPR recently about all the fakes on Amazon now through third-party vendors. I've gotten beautiful stuff for the house off Etsy, but just don't want to be bothered with seed through there, although of the three, I'd go with Etsy over Amazon or Ebay for seed. Don't remember the thread GG referenced above, does anyone have a link?

  • Jay 6a Chicago

    Yeah, I usually check to see if the vendors have a separate online site and that makes me feel more confident. Sometimes seeds from the UK and the rest of Europe take longer to arrive. There are some native plants where the only place you can find them is at Strictly Medicinal Seeds or places like that. The big sites, like ebay, have a bunch of good and bad all crammed together, so you have to be very careful. Some of the Asian sellers don't even put the right species pictures on their adds.

  • zen_man

    Hi all,

    The seed sellers that cater to commercial growers usually have a wider selection than the usual retail seedsmen. The commercial/retail companies make no attempt to actually grow anything, they just buy seeds wholesale and repackage and resell them, mainly to commercial growers, but they don't mind selling to home growers who don't mind having purchasing more seeds in a packet. One such seed seller is Hazzard's Seed Company. Another one is GeoSeed.

    I have purchased zinnia seed from both companies in the last few years. GeoSeed's catalog does not have pictures (except that new varieties are pictured on their website) and GeoSeed does not have an online store. But I don't mind doing an old-fashioned mail order.

    Hazzard's have pictures on their website, and do have an online store.

    ZM (not associated with any product or vendor mentioned or linked)

  • zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

    "Don't remember the thread GG referenced above, does anyone have a link?"

    Probably this one:
    Jack's Seeds

  • mxk3

    ^^ Well, that was quite a read...

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