For many homesteaders, buying enough seeds for a large garden is a major expense. But it doesn’t have to be. There are many resources available for free or low-cost seeds mailed to your door. Here is the most comprehensive list of places to get free seeds anywhere on the internet.
Rare and Heirloom Seeds Free from the USDA
The US government currently operates a program that freely distributes a huge variety of rare and heirloom seed varieties to individuals worldwide. You do not have to be an American citizen to request seeds. They will even pay shipping in most cases.
How to Order Free Seeds from the USDA
- Got to the website linked above
- Click “New User” and register for a free account
- Use the search box to find the plant varieties you want, or leave the box empty to see all results (there are 100s)
- Click on the cart to add seeds that you want to request
- When ready, click on your cart, then click “check out”
- Fill out the required information and click submit
Because the purpose of this program is to support research, education, and environmental protection, you will have to justify why you should receive these seeds. According to the fine print on their site:
“Distribution of germplasm from NPGS collections to fulfill requests from individuals seeking free germplasm strictly for home use is generally considered an inappropriate use of limited resources and conflicts with U.S. Government policy of not competing with commercial enterprises.”
So, be sure to fill out the “planned research” box with details about how your use of the seeds would benefit more than just yourself.
Do I Need a Credit Card or Shipping Account?
The USDA does not require or even request a credit card to receive these seeds. They do have a place to fill in a shipping account, which they would charge to ship you the seeds if you provide one. However, providing a shipping account is unnecessary, and they will send you the seeds without one.
Get Free Seeds from Seed Libraries
Seed libraries are non-profit organizations that will “lend” you seeds in the spring if you promise to “return” them in the fall. This means you can plant a garden for free and repay the library with seeds from the plants you grew.
Because there are many local seed libraries, using one of these makes it more likely that to get seeds that are well adapted to your specific climate and that grow well where you live. Not to mention, contacts you make at the library area great resources for beginning and even advanced gardeners who want to improve their skills.
Find a seed library near you:
- Seed Librarian — almost 200 libraries worldwide, but primarily in the US, Canada, and Europe
- Seed Libraries — Information on starting and running a seed library, and a small listing of seed libraries
- Seeds of Time — 80+ seed libraries. Primarily in the US and Canada
Do Seed Libraries Operate by Mail
Many seed libraries will ship you seeds by mail.
Every library has its own process for checking out seeds. But, typically, to have seeds mailed to you, a seed library would request that you send them a self-addressed stamped envelope in which they would mail you the seeds you requested. This means you are effectively covering shipping.
Be sure to contact the seed library before you send them anything, and determine how they handle requests, so you don’t create any confusion on their part. Volunteers usually run seed libraries, and being respectful of their time is a essential to having a good experience and building strong community bonds.
Low or No Cost Seeds from Charitable Foundations
Some charitable organizations will give out free seeds to those who ask. Generally, the selection of seeds they offer is limited and highly targeted to their particular mission.
Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE) programs will send you seeds for free but require that you send them an envelope with return postage to ship the seeds in. Effectively, these programs are free plus shipping.
Completely Free Seeds
- Free Seeds Project — Limited to the first 5,000 requests. Must be unable to afford seeds, a first time gardener, or growing food for others
- Just Cannabis Seeds — Pot seeds only. One order a day of about 30 seeds maximum. Free plus shipping
- AltUS National Park Services — Free Black-eyed Susan and Butterfly Milkweed seeds mailed to you
- Back to the Roots — Free gardening kits for teachers/students and parents with children
- Excel Energy — Packs of flower seeds for residents of Colorado or Minnesota
- National Wildlife Foundation — Free seeds for plants that butterflies love
- Live Monarch — Free milkweed or mixed seeds with SASE. Low-cost seeds also available
Live Plants for Free
These programs send live plants instead of seeds. Both require a small payment for this service.
- Arbor Day Foundation — Receive 10 trees shipped to you when you join as a member. Membership is “free” with a minimum donation of $10.
- Free Plants by Mail — Sends you 1 plant per month. Free with $7.95 shipping.
- FreePlant.net — Runs seed “giveaways.” Seems to be inactive as of Jan 2021
- Garden Hoard — Free SASE Seeds program. Discontinued.
- Winter Sown — SASE program. Discontinued
Seed Saving and Growing Your Own Seeds
Experienced homesteaders will all eventually take part in some form of seed saving, so you don’t have to rely on an outside source for plants that you grow every year. Learning to save your own seeds is also essential for participating in seed library programs and seed exchanges.
Some Things About Seed Saving to Watch Out For
Growing domestic plants for the production of viable seed stock isn’t always obvious.
“Hybrid” seeds, preferred by large corporate seed producers, will generally not produce viable or productive seeds. For this reason, most homesteaders prefer “open-pollinated” or “heirloom” seeds, which will grow the same year after year.
Some plants have special watering or pollination requirements to grow any seeds at all. Others, like Kiwi, have male and female plants that have to be bred together. While other plants do produce seeds, they are better propagated by cuttings.
Fruit trees are almost always two completely different trees grafted together — one for the roots and one for the branches. Growing a tree directly from seed will usually produce a tree that is much too tall to pick, susceptible to root diseases, and whose fruit isn’t as good as the parent.
Learn to Save Seeds
This free guide is a good place to get started:
- “A Guide to Seed Saving, Seed Stewardship & Seed Sovereignty” (pdf) — A quick 38-page guide to saving seeds of some common plant varieties.
However, I recommend you by the following reference. I consider this to be an essential book for every homesteader or anyone who dreams of food sovereignty or self-sufficiency.
This book will pay for itself the first year you buy it. For those of us interested in self-sufficiency, learning to save your own seeds frees you from the need to buy seeds every year. It also saves the casual gardener $100s per year in seed costs. While saving seed is easy, knowing how to properly plant, pollinate, and select verities so that your garden maintains productivity year after years isn’t. This book is an essential reference that isn’t covered by other gardening books or general homestead reference guides.
This book is on my list of “8 Essential Books For the Homesteader | Required Reading”, which you should check out as well.
Seed swaps are groups that facilitate individuals to share seeds. Generally, there is a forum or someplace where you can post what types of seeds you would like and which ones you can supply. Then other people will give you seeds they have in exchange.
Essentially, this is like a seed library, except directly from grower to grower rather than requiring people to check and return seeds to a central repository.
Many areas of local seed swap groups. Some only operate within a small area, while others operate via mail anywhere in the country. Check with your local gardening club if you are having trouble finding a local seed swap.
Here is a small list of some of the larger seed swaps I’ve found.
- Houzz Seed Exchange
- Seed Savers Exchange
- Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
- Great American Seed Swap (Facebook Group)
Social Media & Planting Forum Seed Giveaways
Expert gardeners and homesteaders often have more seeds than they know what to do with. Sometimes, politely asking for seeds from anyone who can spare them is a great way to get started.
Be sure to participate for a while with these groups before making a request. Don’t just come in looking for a handout. When you ask for help, be sure to start with your story — why do you need these seeds — and be grateful for any help you might receive. Be sure to follow the group’s rules when posting.
Some popular Facebook gardening groups —
- Gardening Hints and Tips
- Backyard Vegetable Gardening Support Group
- Growing Vegetables, Gardening Support And General Help In The Garden 🌍
- HOME GARDENING - SOCIAL GROUP
- Homesteading & Gardening
Gardening forums —
Free Sample Seeds from Seed Companies
Many seed companies give out free seeds with their yearly catalogs. Signing up to receive a catalog is no cost, and they are sent right to you in the mail.
Here is a list of seed companies known to give out free seeds.
- Brent and Becky’s Bulbs
- Burrell Seeds
- Baker Creek Heirloom
- Botanical Interests
- Burnt Ridge Nursery & Orchards
- Seed Savers Exchange
- Annie’s Heirloom
- Burgess Seed & Plant Co.
Cuttings from Neighbors, Parks, and Nature
Many plants will grow from cuttings that don’t hurt the original plant. This is particularly true of fruit trees and herbs.
Walk around local parks and be on the lookout for plants you might be interested in. Taking a small number of cuttings is generally not frowned upon if you are careful not to damage the plants.
Neighbors sharing fruit tree cuttings is a tradition worth reviving if your neighbors have a green thumb. If nothing else, opening up the conversation is a good way to connect with local people who have interested or skills that align with your own.
Some wild plants are edible or make a good addition to a vegetable garden to support plant growth and deter pests. See the following for more information.
- How to Companion Plant the Permaculture Way!
- Make Fruit Trees Immune to Deer | One Secret You Can’t Miss
Seeds from Produce
Many types of plants can be started from cuttings you can get for cheap or free at the grocery store. Most types of live herbs sold in the store — such as basil, thyme, and rosemary — can be propagated from live cuttings sold cheaply in stores. You may able to pick them up half off or free even when they begin to wilt. Just ask the manager of the produce department.
An old bag of potatoes can also be a great source of seed potatoes. Let them sprout in a cool, dark place. Once you see roots begin to form, cut the potatoes to separate each root, and let them dry a few days before planting to reduce rot. Potatoes can yield 8 – 15 times the amount planted each year, by weight. And, they grow well in almost all climates.
Fruits like apples and avocado can grow from seeds, usually discarded anyway, and therefore easy to get for free. However, be aware that many fruit seeds will produce fruit that isn’t as good as the parent and are usually propagated by grafting and cutting. So while you may get a free plant, it might be better to save up and buy the real thing, unless you have someone with fruit trees near you that is willing to show you what to do and give you a cutting.
Where can I get free seeds?
Free seeds are available from the USDA, seed companies, seed libraries, seed exchanges, charitable foundations, and locally from other gardeners. Ultimately, the best source of free seeds is from the plants you grow yourself and harvest using seed saving techniques.
How can I get free garden seed samples by mail?
Many seed companies will send you sample seed packets when you register for their free catalog. Signing up for a seed exchange or seed library is another way to get free seeds mailed to you. A few charities also will send you small amounts of seeds if you ask for them.
How can I get free government seeds?
The USDA operates a free seed program, where seeds are provided upon request on their website: U.S. National Plant Germplasm System. Their policies only allow seeds they provide to be used for scientific, educational, or environmental revitalization purposes, and you must describe how you intend to use the seeds in your application. ======= Introduction