What is going on with the new trend of returning unpurchased seed packets from retail stores. Wal-Mart, Ace, Lowes, Home Depot have all stopped doing seed sales at the end of the season here, and are returning them to thier respective suppliers. This discussion came up in another forum concerning the poor quality of seed from these sources and why the sudden change. My experience has been that even name brand seeds have not produced as well for me from these sources, and it makes me curious why the sudden change.
I don't have any observations about seed quality, but it's definitely stupid stocking. Here, the pattern has become that all the seeds are stocked in the spring. ALL. Even the ones which should be planted in the fall or winter, the ones that absolutely will die without production if they're planted in the spring. So innocent people buy the seeds, thinking it must be the time to plant, and are sorely disappointed, not because of seed quality, but because of inappropriate planting time. Less innocent people go to the store to buy seed at appropriate times, but find that it isn't any stock, all the packets were sent back to the supplier in May.
So I don't know. That makes zero sense. You could argue a little bit of conspiracy theory, that they're tricking you into rebuying seed. But the current stocking practice is so out of line with our planting seasons, that all it can do is discourage people from gardening. They either come to believe that they can't grow anything, or they are confident they can grow, but give up on finding seed at the right time.
(I wonder, too, as far as perceived seed quality, that is related to the US shift in population to the south. Familiar varieties and planting times aren't appropriate in a new climate. Perhaps at an individual level, people cling to familar practices, and devinitely at an organizational level, seed companies and suppliers provide planting date appropriate for where their customer base used to be, not their new southerly customers.)
For the reasons stated above, and many others, I stopped a few years ago from buying any seeds, or seed starting supplies locally. I have many bad experiences with seed purchased from "Big Box" stores, and much of that I am guessing is poorly handled stock. I'm sure that much of the seed is stored right along with the rest of their merchandise and no consideration is made for the proper temp/humidity during storage.
I agree with realbirdlady about the inappropriate timing of seed availability and would like to add deceptive labeling and misinformation on seed packets. So many stores have great displays of perennial seeds with wonderful pictures and the instructions on preparing a good seedbed with no other information (Like the fact that many of these plants won't flower in the first year, or won't germinate until they are stratified (wrong season for planting)).
I now buy ~95% of my seed through the web direct from the seed companies (some are much better than others). The only seed I buy locally is some vegetable seed in bulk (spinach, greenbeans, corn) from a local farm store.
Even worse than the seed in my opinion is the trash that many companies are now stocking as planting media. The amount of foreign material in the media (from well known national brands) is unbelievable. Rocks, broken glass, metal and chunks of wood as long as 5 inches in soiless mixtures is unacceptable. Coupled with the fact that the majority of the mixes I have purchased in the last five years have been heavily contaminated with fungus gnats has led me to have to travel 60 miles to the nearest nursery to buy quality planting media. (I would buy that over the web, but shipping is prohibitive).
The bottom line for me is that I don't even look at the gardening sections of those stores anymore, I can buy almost everything I need cheaper on the web including seed, starting supplies, media, pesticides and fertilizer.
-- not to be too long winded, BUT the worst gaff that some of these stores are guilty of is offering biennial plants, in full bloom, for sale as perennials.
... the worst gaff that some of these stores are guilty of is offering biennial plants, in full bloom, for sale as perennials.
I agree. Another that I see in every chain store is the wrong plant for the climate. Walmart offer plants that will not survive in my zone 4, especially roses. People buy them then wonder, or blame themselves, when the plant does not survive.
Although, I have never had a problem with seeds from discount stores, I purchase seeds only from online stores such as Parks. More choice in variety.
Mainly they are returning them at the end of the year because the seed sales people give a discount for any returned seed. The big box stores are looking to save any money as they can. Big Box stores just sell plants, they do not care about the plants. Try online or at your smaller greenhouses that actually do care.
also, the rebuying seed maybe possible. More cheap the seed, the more possible that it is older seed and the germination number is low.
What's odd here is that the smaller/independent/locally-owned nurseries follow the same pattern with the seeds. (At least vegetable seeds, I don't really pay attention the the flowers.) Even places that are quite adapated and appropriate and knowledgeable as far as the plants they sell. Which is what is making me think it's driven by the seed companies, somehow, but they're the reputable reliable suppliers, too, so that wouldn't make any sense for them. It's all very odd to me.
So maybe I'm not a wandering idiot after all. I'm not into perennials or biennials that much, but it appears the problem with retailers may be worse than I thought. Buyer Beware! I have read DG discussions in the past about disreputable seed companies, and I try to be careful when ordering seed to get seed suited to Zone 4 or "cool climate" seed. However, I was recently informed by a gentleman from MN, also in Zone 4, that zones are only applicable when dealing with perennials. I admit ignorance here, because I have purchased vegetable seed packets in the past where the packets used zone pictures on the back for planting instructions. He also mentioned that DG should have a place to educate people on zones. From you comments, I'm wondering if there is more to this zone thing than just perennials.
I ran into this problem before Christmas when I first started looking for flower seed.
Because of the cost of gas, rather than running from place to place, I made phone calls to local garden centers/nurseries to see if they had any flower seed left. The answer I got at a lot of stores was that they send them back to the seed co. I was wondering if the stores do this, what prevents the seed company just putting them into a new packet and selling them again for new seed ? I found one garden center that had bundled their left over seeds into a basket and sold them 10 pkt. for $10..if you took less than the 10 pkt. you paid the price of the pkt.'s orginal cost. This garden center was beautiful and I dug through the basket to come up with 20 pkt. some of them I was familiar with; some I wasn't but I figured I could use them to trade.
If you have smaller garden nurseries or greenhouses, they may keep them. But seed packages have expiration dates and after Jan. 1 they are not allowed to keep them on the floor to sell, so this may be another reason why just like food. So even if you do not see them, then ask. Doesn't hurt. Some of those real cheap seed packs you see for like 10 cents a package in the new year; I have heard those are "recycled" older seed. the germination rate is just slimmer.
On the zone issue: do watch what you buy from bigger places. Always know what zone you are in. The small greenhouse here only sells things in zone 5, if they have something that is not for zone 5; they warn that it is an annual or tender perennial.
I had an odd experience with a supermarket a while back. Like most supermarkets, they have a "garden center" and sell seeds. They're a business client I've had for about a year now, and go there weekly. Being the seed addict that I am, and a cheap one to boot, I kept an eye on their seed display for a big sale as the season moved on. It got to the beginning of September and their seeds still hadn't gone on sale. At about the beginning of October, I noticed the display was gone. I asked the clerk at the department what happened to the seed display rack as I was hoping they would have gone on sale by now. Well she said they were all destroyed! Are you kidding me? They rather destroy them then put them on sale. All she could say was that it was a shame, they were not even offered to the employees, it was just their policy!
rockgardner, I gather from your comment this was a recent development in your area as well. It just seems strange to me that this could be happening all over the country at once. Does this seem odd to anyone else???
Yea, it was just this past October. I can't imagine this would be a policy for all retail markets, but who knows, it could be a trend. In another experience, this past December when I went to a local nursery to buy a Christmas tree, I decided to check if they still had their seed rack up, and they did. They didn't look to be on sale so I asked the clerk in the department. She said, "oh no, they're 2010 seeds". I checked the packages, and they said "packaged for 2009-10". To me that means overstock from this past spring. In the same nursery I come across a brand of seed packs which didn't even have an expiration date. Asked if they were on sale, the reply, "no, sorry". In another situation, my local big name drug store which always had their seeds go on sale in past years (I would often buy dozens of packs at a time @ 5 for $1), but this year the seeds disappeared after early summer, without ever going on sale. Sure makes you wonder.
My feeling is it's a plan by the seed companies to avoid "sales" because they relize too many people have gotten smart enough to wait til late summer or fall and buy when they go on sale. Thus it reduces profits for all who stand to make a profit. Besides, the big seed companies must be really hurting from all the competition brought on by the advent of internet sellers, like on ebay, and all the "mom and pop" online sellers. I was even thinking of doing it myself for a while.
Your conclusion rockgardener about the big seed companies feeling pressure from seed traders may very well be causing chages in the way seed companies are doing business. I have followed comments on various types of seed trading here in DG and my gut tells me that this is probably one of the more reliable sources for seed. I have taken up several offers for pepper seeds to see how that works.