Seed Catalogs 101

seed catalogs

The snow squeaks under your boots as you trudge through the drifts to the mailbox. It’s only December, but you’re already growing weary of the winter weather, the frigid temps, and the endlessly gray skies. Spring seems far away.

But what’s this? Tucked inside your mailbox, underneath a stack of bills, is a beacon of hope, light and warmth. It holds the promise of springtime in its pages; it exudes wonder and joy and dreams.

It’s a seed catalog!

Glorious in its very existence, a seed catalog bursts forth with all the ingredients to brighten a dreary December day. Bright colors, bold promises—you’ll find them on every page. Technical info, growing requirements—they’re all here too. Clever names, incredible photos, stories and history and provenance—they’re all packed inside.

Of course, one seed catalog is never enough. You’ll need many catalogs. You’ll need to make many lists. You’ll need notebooks and pencils and a calculator. You’ll ask for more catalogs. You’ll place a lot of orders. You might spend a lot of money. It will all be worth it.

Maybe you have questions about seed catalogs. Here are a few things you might wonder about:


Q: How do I get these wonderful seed catalogs in the mail?

Seed Savers

These Swenson Swedish Pea seeds from Seed Savers are ready for planting. (Photo cred: Samantha Johnson)

A: A quick internet search for “seed catalogs” will put dozens of seed companies at your fingertips, or you can explore the ads in your favorite gardening magazines for more ideas. Ask your friends for their recommendations—which catalogs do they like best? Next, narrow down the options until you’ve selected the companies that specialize in the seeds you’re most interested in (flowers, vegetables, heirloom varieties). Then all you need to do is request the catalogs. Some suppliers, such as Seed Savers Exchange (and you’ll definitely want to be on that list—their catalog is gorgeous!), accept catalog requests year-round. But others have a December deadline, so don’t delay—in order to get on those 2023 catalog lists, you’ll want to be asking now.


Q: When do seed catalogs arrive?

A: Some of the larger seed companies send multiple catalogs each year, but many seed companies send only one catalog per year. The peak season for seed catalogs is December and January, giving you plenty of time to make your spring gardening plans.


seed catalog

Flipping through seed catalogs helps northern gardeners survive winter. (Photo cred: Samantha Johnson)

Q: Seed catalogs are beautiful! I want to buy everything! What should I do?

A: This is a normal feeling and to be expected when perusing a seed catalog. Have fun!


Q: The options and varieties are a little overwhelming! How can I make the best choices?

A: You’ll need a basic plan to provide guidance as you shop. Spend some time evaluating the number of garden beds you’ll plant and the number and size of containers you’ll use. Evaluate the seeds you already have on hand—do you have leftover seeds from last year? Many seeds will still germinate the next year. Do you have three unopened packets of lettuce seeds but no Swiss chard? Make lists, figure out what you have and what you still need, and then shop accordingly.

Bonus tip: It’s a great idea to keep notes on what worked and what didn’t in your garden. Make note of which varieties performed well, which ones were underwhelming, and which ones you definitely don’t want to grow again. If you’ve found the perfect summer squash that you absolutely love, you won’t need to shop for new varieties. But if the perfect sweet pepper still eludes you, plan on trying something new.


Q: I’m impatient. I want the seed catalogs to come NOW. Any advice?

A: I know, it’s hard to wait. But there are many ways to pass the time. You can make garden plans, learn about composting or clean your garden tools. You can read books and blogs about gardening, or pop in those earbuds and listen to gardening podcasts. By the time the catalogs arrive, you’ll be ready to roll!


What are YOUR favorite seed catalogs? Share your thoughts below! Here are some of my top picks:


Samantha Johnson is the author of several books, including Garden DIY (CompanionHouse Books, 2020). She lives in northern Wisconsin and frequently writes about pets, gardening and farm life. Visit her online portfolio at

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  1. Sarah Jirik on November 8, 2022 at 6:21 pm

    Kitchen Garden Seeds is a staple for me. Great choice of unusual seeds, wonderful greens and salad mixes, mixed seed and small varieties for small or balcony gardens. And the most beautiful hand illustrated seed packets.

    • MSHS on November 10, 2022 at 12:02 am

      Thanks for the recommendation, Sarah! We’ll check it out.

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