It's not goodbye, it's seed-you-later.

That's the word from garden centers and Extension educators to gardeners: Don't fret if your favorite garden seed variety is sold out right now, it'll be back soon.

"The seed supply is not depleted. It has simply been a challenging year to manage increased demand," recently wrote Natalie Hoidal, University of Minnesota Extension educator for local foods and vegetable crops.

The still increasing demand for gardening products makes it hard on companies — particularly smaller ones with only a few people managing orders, to keep pace. Gardeners browsing seed catalogs this winter may have found a handful of varieties to be sold out or that companies weren't taking orders.

Garden seed packages at Sargent’s on 2nd Garden in southwest Rochester on Feb. 22, 2021. (Noah Fish / Agweek)
Garden seed packages at Sargent’s on 2nd Garden in southwest Rochester on Feb. 22, 2021. (Noah Fish / Agweek)

Seed companies are purchasing more seed from farmers than ever before, Hoidal said, and it'll take some time for new producers to arise and for farmers to increase acreage. She said a lot of seed contracts were negotiated early in the year, before the demand was fully realized.

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Scott Moon is the manager at Sargent’s on 2nd, one of three locations that Sargent's Gardens has in southeast Minnesota.

"We are not having any seed shortages," Moon said the last week in February, while looking at the wall of seed packages they had at the center in southwest Rochester. "But as you can see, there's quite a few empty spots here."

Moon said they buy seed from only one supplier, Colorado-based Lake Valley Seed, and orders this year are getting filled, but with significant delays. He said that in a typical year, garden seed ordered on a Monday would be in stock at the center by Friday. The last order Moon made was estimated to take two to three weeks.

"The turnaround is much, much slower right now," he said.

Sargent’s on 2nd Garden in southwest Rochester. (Noah Fish / Agweek)
Sargent’s on 2nd Garden in southwest Rochester. (Noah Fish / Agweek)

The biggest factor for seed shortages is a surge in demand for garden products during the pandemic, said Hoidal. She cites a study by Griffin Greenhouse Supplies, which surveyed 1,000 first-year gardeners last year, and 80% of those surveyed said they would probably continue gardening in 2021.

"Based on early seed sales in 2021, it seems that the resurgence in gardening is indeed going to continue this year," she said.

At Sargent's, 2020 brought a whole new type of customer to its centers.

"We had a whole new younger clientele coming in that we have been trying to reach out to get for years," Moon said. "This big 'shop local' groundswell brought them to us."

Moon, who's worked for Sargent's Gardens for 36 years, said the biggest group of new gardeners in 2020 were in the 28-35 age range. That age is typically savvy at browsing and ordering online, but he said buying plants online differs from other products.

"That's the difficulty of the internet — it gives you too many options," Moon said. "(Young gardeners) just have to be willing to pivot to a different variety than they planned on growing."

There are some actual shortages in a few garden seed varieties, Moon said. The shortages are in tomatoes and miscellaneous herbs, which were items not very popular for gardeners before the pandemic.

With tomatoes, Moon said, there are several cherry varieties that all share similarities in taste.

"People get focused on having that certain variety," he said.

Plenty of seeds are still available on company websites, Hoidal said, but maybe not the ones that gardeners are used to growing. If your favorite variety of seeds can't be found at one vendor, don't stop looking.

A rack of organic garden seed packages at Sargent’s on 2nd Garden in southwest Rochester. (Noah Fish / Agweek)
A rack of organic garden seed packages at Sargent’s on 2nd Garden in southwest Rochester. (Noah Fish / Agweek)

Tips for finding seed

Go early: Moon recommends shopping early for garden seed this year, and getting to catalogs before they sell out. He said it obviously depends on what you are planting, but anytime after the third week of May, customers should have "plenty of options out there".

"But they are going to be limited options," he said.

Seed swaps/libraries: Hoidal recommends finding local seed libraries or seed saving groups if gardeners can't find what they need from companies.

"Many seed saving groups are doing online seed swaps this year and finding creative ways to share seeds safely with community members," she said.

Hoidal said if gardeners have leftover seed from last year that they don't plan to plant this year, finding a seed swap or putting up a free seed library are good options that will help the gardening community.

"If you have extra space to start seeds indoors, you might even consider starting seeds and sharing transplants with your neighbors," she said.

Make sure to only share seeds from healthy plants, Hoidal said, in order to not transmit any "pathogens to your neighbors."

Expand your search: Hoidal said that gardeners should remember there are tons of smaller regional businesses to buy from; they just have to look. Some Minnesota companies that might go overlooked are Jordan Seeds, North Circle Seeds and Superior Seed Co.

Moon said that some customers get hung up on only buying a certain brand of seeds, but that prevents them from discovering new options that may be more local and suitable for them.

"There's enough great varieties out there between all of the seed companies," Moon said.

Share your extras: The minimum number of seeds per packet is often between 25-100, said Hoidal.

"This means that if you’ve ordered seeds this year, you may have plenty of extras to share," she said.