If you’re trying to grow your own food on a budget, it’s nearly always cheapest to raise most of your plants from seed yourself. So, how to find cheap seeds? As with most money-saving efforts, the best thing to do is shop around. It’s also worth doing a little research and asking around about the reliability of different brands and retailers, as word of mouth recommendations can be invaluable.
The main ways to save when buying seeds are:
- Using the low cost seed retailers
- Buying smaller amounts (to stay within budget)
- Finding deals on more expensive seeds
- Keeping postage costs down
Using the low cost seed retailers
While many people turn their noses up at the cheaper supermarkets and pound shops, thifty gardeners regularly find good cheap seeds in these places.
- One of the best places to find a bargain is Lidl. They have seasonal displays and racks of all kinds of seeds, usually starting in February or March. The prices start from 29p per packet (sometimes even lower than that because of multi-buys), the germination rates are excellent, the seed count per pack isn’t stingy, and the varieties are interesting and often award-winning.
- You may also find cheap seeds at branches of Aldi, although Lidl is the one that gets raved about most often by gossiping grow-your-own-ers.
- Poundland is particularly good for its collection packs, which contain up to eight mini-packets for £1. Collections include herbs, unusual beans, allotment favourites, salad ingredients, and Mediterranean veg and herbs. Again, they tend to have good germination rates, and they usually feature well-known varieties. One potential downside is that the mini-packets don’t always contain huge amounts of seeds, but it’s usually more than adequate for an average-sized garden.
- The 99p Stores chain is also worth a look, particularly for their large packets of mixed gourmet salad seeds, seed potatoes, and sets of well-known, reliable varieties of onions and shallots.
- Pound World gets an honourable mention, although its seeds aren’t always labelled with the exact variety, which can sometimes be problematic.
- While not strictly pound shops, the Family Bargains chain prices most of its sets, tubers and seed collections at £1 or less, and sources much of its stock from the same places as its pound shop rivals.
- Poundstretcher is another shop in this price bracket, and most branches hold seasonal stock with seeds mostly from Carters – generally priced 59p per pack or two for £1, and containing plenty of seeds with good germination rates.
- Wilkinsons is another favourite for grow-your-own bargains, with prices starting from 40p and regular ‘3 for the price of 2’ offers. They have the widest range of seed varieties of all the cheaper shops, with reliable germination and plenty of seeds per packet. In particular, they have plenty of gourmet varieties at very low prices, so look out for their Wilco Chef’s Choice and Wilco Allotment Favourites seed ranges.
You can also find branded cheap seeds in other types of discount shop, often when you don’t expect to see them. For the last couple of years, branches of The Works (mainly thought of as a bookshop) have offered four packs of Mr Fothergill’s seeds for £1, although you’d have to be quick if you saw them.
Obviously all these shops are brightly lit, and often warm, so they don’t have ideal conditions for storing seeds (the same as many hardware stores, DIY shops and garden centres). However, buying at the start of the growing season can reduce the likelihood of problems, as well as giving you the widest range of choice.
Buying smaller amounts
If you’re looking for very specific, perhaps unusual or specialist seeds, you may not be able to find what you’re looking for in the bargain shops. Unfortunately, most specialist seed suppliers tend to sell their products in fairly large, expensive packs, and if you don’t have much to spend in the first place then you may find yourself priced out.
One way to get around this problem is to find retailers who’ll send you tiny amounts of good quality, cheap, fresh seeds. Although this may cost you more on a price-per-seed basis, it can bring the total price down too. It’s up to you whether you buy a big pack and save some for next season, or you buy a small pack and use it all up.
- One example of a retailer who’ll send you tiny amounts of interesting seeds is Moreveg.co.uk. They have really interesting varieties for the adventurous vegetable and herb grower, with over 500 varieties priced at just 50p per small packet. These include many plants that overwinter well, fill the hungry gap, and so on.
You can also find many sellers on eBay who will sell you small amounts of low priced seeds, but it’s a case of ‘buyer beware’. Always, always check the feedback scores of the sellers, and if in doubt stick with ones that have been rated as eBay Top-rated Sellers (look out for the rosette that’s displayed next their listings when you’re doing a search).
- Just Seed UK is one such eBay seller with a good reputation; they’re also DEFRA registered and stock a wide range of varieties.
Finding deals on more expensive seeds
While it’s good to try to make the most of the cheap offers when they’re available, sometimes you’ll want to try some newer or rarer varieties of seeds, and these tend to be more expensive. However, if there are specific problems in your growing space, you sometimes need to buy more expensive seed varieties simply to have a successful crop.
For example, you could buy seed potatoes that have been bred to resist blight, carrots that are less attractive to carrot root fly, spinach that resists mildew, and so on. Buying the specially bred seeds is generally cheaper than buying treatments for pests and diseases.
You may end up buying from one of the bigger seed suppliers such as Mr Fothergill’s, Suttons, Thompson & Morgan, Unwins and others such as Johnson’s, Marshall’s, DT Brown’s, Real Seeds, Simply Seed, Franchi Seeds of Italy, Moles Seeds and Dobies. These seeds can be found in garden centres, or you can buy online from the retailers themselves. If you’re buying in a garden centre, the centre itself may have seasonal offers.
- If you’re buying from retailers online, sign up for as many of their e-newsletters as you can. These regularly contain voucher codes, discount codes and special seasonal multi-buy offers that don’t appear on their websites during searches.
- The larger and mid-sized seed suppliers regularly have offers such as ‘3 for 2’, or ‘buy 8 packets and get 2 free’. If you already know and like a seed company, and you have the space for the plants, this can be a convenient one stop shop. Watch out though, it’s tempting to buy more than you need and you can end up blowing your budget.
- Make sure that the packet of seeds offered by a particular retailer isn’t cheaper somewhere else by doing a general internet search, and by using price comparison shopbots (Pricerunner, Kelkoo, Google Shopping etc). Once you’ve found the cheapest two or three, start bringing in the discounts to work out the cheapest final price.
- If you don’t have a newsletter discount code, a simple internet search for the retailer’s name plus ‘voucher code’ or ‘discount code’ is very likely to get you some money off.
- It’s also worth buying your seeds via a cashback site (such as TopCashback), where you may get an instant discount as well as a cashback payment that arrives a few weeks later.
Keeping postage costs down
If you’re buying online (or from a mail order catalogue), always factor in the postage. The P&P charges of some companies are extortionate, and can actually wipe out your attempts to save money growing your own vegetables and herbs. Think about it: how expensive can it really be to put a tiny, light packet of seeds into a small envelope?
You options for avoiding postage charges are:
- Stick to retailers that offer free postage for seeds
- Wait for the regular seasonal free P&P vouchers from the bigger retailers
- Buy enough seeds from the same retailer to qualify for free postage (sometimes a false economy so be careful)
How to get free seeds
As a small footnote, it’s sometimes possible to find seeds for free too. I’ll write in much greater detail about this in a separate article all about how to get free seeds, but in summary you need to look out for: seed swaps, free gifts with magazines, commercial and promotional giveaways, and local and national schemes. You can also save many seeds from your garden to use for free next year.
Over to you
If you have any tips about how to buy cheap seeds then please share them! It’d be great if you’d like to leave a comment or, if you’d prefer, just email them in.