Dreaming of Spring – Why you get seed catalogs in December

Park Seeds Catalog CoverAnd the frenzy of the season can commence! Black Friday, smack Friday… who needs holiday shopping when the 2008 last frost date is only 159 days away! The seed catalogs have begun to arrive and I can plan in earnest how I am going to blow a couple of hundred dollars on seeds that I will not do a damn thing with. I still have 3 years worth of unwise impulse buys that I had neither the space nor money to spend on them. But, god it is so fun.

A while back, I wrote about how to tell the quality of a seed catalog based on paper weight. On a related subject, this barrage of seed catalogs in December is probably not intended to produce sales in December, other than the odd gift from or to a loved one. To tell the truth, at least 50% of what you see in the catalog is not even in stock yet, especially anything that says “New for 2008”.

Mostly, these catalogs are a way to ramp up the later spending of dependable buyers. Yep, I am willing to bet any of you out there who are getting catalogs right now bought from a catalog or from an online site that has a catalog.   And you are salivating over a catalog now.

Seed companies know a little something about people who buy seeds from catalogs; like that these are the hard core gardeners. These are the ones who pine longingly over seed catalogs and use them as a surrogate garden while they wait for cruel white snows to recede. The longer you have a catalog handy, the longer your list of seeds will get.

Round about mid to late January, you will get another seed catalog from these companies. And maybe another in mid to late February, if they know that you buy ALOT of seeds.   These are for all you disgustingly organized gardeners and those suffering from serious seasonal affective disorder. But, while profiable, these mailings are not the biggies. Round about early March, you will probably get another one. Also, you will get seed catalogs that you never bought from. Your mailman will start to glare at you a little. Those catalogs are heavy, you know.

That March catalog is the money maker catalogs. Seed buying gardeners are whipped into a frenzy at this point in time. There have been a few moderately warm days that hint at Spring. The possibilities… The hope… The excitement! Suddenly that very long wish list you have compiled over the winter, when all those catalogs were your only solace, seems very possible. This will be the year!

The credit card gets whipped out. The order is placed and you now have something to look forward to other than the first robin.

It is only about May that the truth sets in.

  1. You will not be able to grow all these seeds this year
  2. Half of them are not suited to your climate anyway

You promise yourself that next year you won’t buy any seeds. You have enough to last you through next year. But that next catalog will be arriving sometime around the beginning of December…

10 thoughts on “Dreaming of Spring – Why you get seed catalogs in December
  1. You’ve hit the nail on the head with this post. I think I’m already suffering from the seasonal affective disorder.


  2. If we all had your grasp of reality the seed companies would go broke! We all tend to order more than we need. I’m glad my girlfriend hasn’t hit on the catalouge thing yet! Sort of on the same subject, I don’t know how your ad thing works for you, but I’m glad you have Gardens Alive. I have used their stuff in the past. We have pure sand and can use all the organic ingredients we can get. I currently use PlantTone, along with much peat humous. I hope you profit when I place my order!


  3. Full disclosure: I work for the Department of Horticulture at Cornell. We host an Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners website (http://vegvariety.cce.cornell.edu/), where hard core veggie gardeners can rate and review different varieties.

    We did a little poll there about when respondents order their seeds. It came out like this:

    Before New Year’s 14% (15 votes)
    January 50% (54 votes)
    February 23% (25 votes)
    March 6% (7 votes)
    April or later 6%

    That’s neither a random nor a very large sample. But at least among this group, nearly 90 percent have ordered their seeds before March.

    I invite you to come visit the site. We’re still building it out and need more folks to review what’s working — and not working — for them.


  4. If not for seed catalogues I don’t think I’d make it through the winter. We have catalogues on our kitchen table, by the tv, in the bathroom, on our nightstand (gardener porn, indeed), and in the living room. We each have one in our bags, and we keep one in the Jeep to read while we’re waiting to pick up the other at the train.

    When the monster Seed Savers directory comes in February I’m going to have to take a week off from work, I think.

    We are pretty good at exercising restraint when it comes to ordering, at least.


  5. “new for 2008” so true…shy didnt anyone tell me that tidbit before I placed my order? everything BUT the “new for 2008” stuff was in stock!

    I’m going to grow all my seeds this year. I am. Yes….

    for sure……

    all of them…..

    i have it planned all in my head…

    Now where to put 30 rosa rugosas from seed?


  6. Hanna on

    Dave – My husband says I get mopey the minute the first frost hits. I think gardeners are more affected by it than normal people.

    gus – Unfortunatly, grasp of reality does not equal self control. 😉 I still go broke every year.

    Ellis Hollow – Thanks for the info! I was basing my observations on Park Seeds traffic according to Alexa. You can see it here:

    Change it to one year. See how the traffic spikes in late Jan, then in Feb and then you can see the largest spike in early Mar. I use to work for a catalog company so I know these spikes are catalog drops and how many people are buying what’s in the catalogs, which in this case is seeds.

    Maybe the really hard core gardeners have a more organized purchasing schedual?

    steven – LOL

    Meg – I wish I had restraint. But I agree, seed catalogs are a must for getting through the winter.

    GirlGoneGardening – They do it on purpose too. We use to do it at my old job, too. Something about seeing how people like them to judge how many they really need to order.


  7. Oh, thank heaven. I thought I was alone in my shame about buying 10x more seeds than I can possibly use.
    This spring, I invited other gardeners to go through my seeds and take whatever they wanted.
    Later, I found that while they spent hours going through my seeds and carefully bagging them, they did not plant them either.
    I guess it is like buying dressy clothing we will wear only once or not at all – an investment in mental health.


  8. a girlfriend and I used to get on the phone in a frenzy when a new catalog hit “page 6, did you SEE it?” (giggle, moan, frenzy of mutual planning where it might be put: the winner being the one who could convincingly argue that she actually had ‘the perfect spot.’) I dubbed the catalogs our “gardeners porn” and that really seems about right. I don’t order so much any more, but I still need those pictures to get me through winter.


  9. jeanette on

    I thought I was the only one that read myself to sleep with the J.L. Hudson catalog dreaming botanical dreams, ordering enough seeds to plant 10 acres in zones 5-9. Now I don’t feel so all alone.


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