Fake seed scams and fake plant scams are on the rise. Here’s what to watch out for so you don’t get scammed.
Gardening season is the time of year for fake seed scams online. Why? Because gardeners everywhere are busy ordering plants and seeds for the growing season. And that’s when fake seed scammers are hard at work.
There are many benefits of ordering your seeds online—such as getting rare heirloom varieties that aren’t available in local stores. However, the industry has its share of scammers, too. So, make sure you know what to watch out for to avoid fake seed scams.
How to Avoid Fake Seed Scams Online
Colorful or unusual plants can be found just about everywhere online this time of year. And while many of these are 100% real, such as ‘Glass Gem’ corn and burgundy broccoli, many others are not. Avoid disappointment by following these online seed ordering tips:
If it looks too good to be true, it probably is
Ads selling seed packets of tie-die roses, bright purple strawberries, and even blue tomatoes abound. Buyer beware! If it looks unreal, it probably is. Google the plant name, reverse-search the product image, or contact a local garden forum to make sure it’s not a scam.
Check the website
The vast majority of reputable seed retailers will have their own secure domain, even if they also sell on Amazon or other retailers. As you browse for exciting new plants on Wink, Wish, Ebay or Amazon, check for the seller’s name, website and reputation.
One of our favorite online sources of plants is NatureHills.com. Nature Hills is “America’s Largest Online Plant Nursery,” and they sell a wide variety of trees, fruit trees, shrubs, flowering plants, and landscape plants.
Click on the photo to the left and the link will take you to Nature Hills. If you make a purchase, Home Garden and Homestead will receive a small commission.
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Never buy seeds or plants sourced outside the US
This one is very important. It is difficult, and generally illegal, to import seeds from outside the continental US. Many orders of these seeds get seized by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and they never make it to the buyer. And speaking of the USDA…
Check for USDA certification/credentials
All reputable seed companies are inspected and certified by the USDA. If you have any doubts about whether the seeds are USDA certified, ask the seller. Fake seed scams are never USDA certified.
Read the reviews (with a grain of salt)
Lots of these fake seed scams appear to have dozens of 4 and 5-star reviews; but most of these are for the delivery of the seeds, not whether or not they were real. Some fake seed scammers will even write fake reviews on their website.
Look for the catalog
Most online seed companies will offer a full catalog of their available seeds at the start of each growing season. These can be online or traditional mail order catalogs. Not only are seed catalogs fun to browse, they also offer more info about the company and their policies.
Look for the details
All reputable seed companies offer full descriptions of their seed collections. Each seed packet should clearly display everything from germination time and culture needs to the number of days until harvest. Many companies will even name the variety’s origin and specific disease resistance. If a plant seed’s description seems vague or generic, be wary. It could be a fake seed scam.
Read the return policy
A big red flag for online fake seed scams is their policies. Scam sellers will offer little or no guarantee on their seeds. If they do, it is usually only 7-10 days. That’s much too short a time period for an unwitting buyer to realize their seeds are fake. A reputable seed company, on the other hand, will guarantee their seeds for up to a year.
Fake Seed Scams: The Worst of the Worst
Popular fake seed scams can vary from year to year. Some are obviously fake, while others are a little more believable. These are just a few of the online fake seed scams that are out there on the Internet.
Fake Seed Scams #1: Rainbow Tomato Seeds
These show up every year. The clusters of bright purple, red, yellow and blue tomatoes (all on the same plant!) are a giveaway that they’re fake, no matter where they are sold or advertised. Luckily, there are plenty of beautiful, real heirloom tomatoes from which to choose!
Fake Seed Scams #2: Hydrangea, Rose & Flowering Shrub Seeds
Flowering shrubs such as hydrangeas, roses, wisteria and lilac should never be bought from seed. Unfortunately, we see scammers selling them this way all the time (usually in weird fake colors). Fruiting and flowering shrubs are always propagated from root stock and sold as bare root, root stock, or potted plants. This is the only way they’ll stay true to the variety. A pink floribunda rose grown from seed, for example, may turn out scraggly with single white flowers, if it blooms at all.
Fake Seed Scams #3: Rainbow (Orchid? Lily?) Seeds
This one has different names depending on the scammer. Some say orchid, some say lily-of-the-valley. Either way, they’re fake (and real orchids are also never sold from seed).
Fake Seed Scams #4: Colorful Grass Seeds
These fake plants display light pink, purple, blue and green plumes on ornamental grasses. Sorry, they’re not real. You can, however, buy colorful ornamental grasses that are real, like blue fescue and pink muhly, from reputable nurseries.
Fake Seed Scams #5: Venus Fly Trap Seeds
Like roses, hydrangeas, orchids and fruit trees, carnivorous plants like the Venus fly trap are notoriously difficult to grow from seed. That’s why they are never sold that way by reputable companies. Make sure you only purchase them as live plants. (And no, Venus fly traps don’t come in this color).
Fake Seed Scams #6: Bright Blue or Purple Fruit Seeds
From strawberries to watermelon, there are dozens of blue or purple fruit seed scams online. If a fruit seed is being sold with an unnatural color, triple-check first: it’s probably Photoshopped. (There are some great exceptions to this rule, like yellow watermelon, for example).
Safe, Reputable Seed Companies
Fake seed scams are prevalent. Fortunately, there are lots of wonderful, reputable seeds and reputable companies out there, too! Here’s a list of some of our favorites:
One of the largest seed companies in the US, Burpee has been in the business since 1881. They have an extensive online catalog, but you can find many of their seed packets in big box stores as well. https://www.burpee.com/
Park Seed is a reputable company that’s been in business for over 150 years. A virtual nursery superstore, Park Seed’s selections include everything from garden supplies, to trees, to dozens of flower and vegetable seeds. https://parkseed.com/
Territorial Seed Company
This family-owned seed breeder and retailer is a great resource for exploring exclusive new varieties as well as heritage or heirloom varieties. www.territorialseed.com/
Well known for their gorgeous seed packet artwork and descriptions, Botanical Interests has also made a name for itself for its wildflower seed mixes. Peruse the catalog for fresh vegetable seeds. Also check out the uniquely beautiful flowers that are perfect for attracting bees and butterflies. www.botanicalinterests.com/
Sustainable Seed Co.
This large online retailer sells over 875 varieties of organic heirloom seed. They are in the business to preserve and promote heritage strains of corn, tobacco, tomatoes and more. If you want to learn more about starting your own organic heirloom farm, Sustainable Seed Co. is a great educational resource. https://sustainableseedco.com/
Online scams are everywhere, including, sadly, in the garden industry. Fortunately, with a few tips and some great alternatives, gardeners everywhere can enjoy ordering new exciting seeds online from the experts.
If you are planning grow from REAL seed this year, check out
Also read The Best New Vegetable Seeds for Your Garden.