By Bonnie Grant and Mary Ellen Ellis
The benefits of starting plants from seed are numerous, including the sense of accomplishment and joy you get from growing an entire plant from just a little seed. Starting from seed may take a little more time and effort, but is definitely worth the rewards. Winter doldrums can bring on fantasies of lush, verdant gardens and the itch to get going on the veggie patch becomes almost uncontrollable. This is where the benefits of starting seeds vs. buying plants must be considered.
Then again, there are always two sides to this debate. For example, starting with seeds is more economical but not all zones have a long growing season and many will get leggy and fail to produce if they aren’t mature enough by plant out time. Transplants are more developed, ready to go outdoors when soil warms up and can add time to a short growing season. Continue reading to learn the ups and downs to both.
Why Start Seeds
Mary Ellen’s viewpoint: Why start seeds instead of taking the easy road and using transplants? Planting seeds or transplants is an important decision, so we’ll make it easy for you. Let us list all the reasons you might want to consider buying seed packets instead of transplants:
Seeds cost less. If you have ever been to the nursery in the spring to get your baby vegetable plants, you know how quickly the costs can add up. Packets of seeds cost much less, but seeds can even be free if you save them from one year to the next or exchange with fellow gardeners.
Get more variety. Check out a seed catalogue and you’ll see just how many options you have for plant and vegetable varieties. Transplants are much more limited. With seeds, you can even get heirloom varieties to try.
Some vegetables don’t transplant well. With some plants, like carrots or beans, seeding right in the garden is not only the easiest option, it’s also the best way to grow them successfully. Not all plants do well when transplanted, so starting from seed makes more sense.
Seeds can be started indoors. Timing is important in gardening, and with seeds you get to choose when you start. With transplants you have to guess the last frost. With seedlings started indoors, you have more control over climate and environment, ensuring your plants grow strong and healthy.
Watch the fruits of your labor. There is something so rewarding about watching your little seeds turn into big plants growing vegetables and fruits. You just can’t get that same feeling from using transplants.
Why Use Transplants
Bonnie’s viewpoint: Seed is relatively inexpensive and easy to grow, so why use transplants?
Quick growth. One of the benefits of nursery grown plants is that they are garden ready more quickly, take no effort to start and mature more quickly. In the case of plants like melons, tomatoes, peppers and other long season varieties, using transplants can help ensure a bumper crop because they will fruit more quickly than seed.
Get what you need. Some other benefits of nursery grown plants are that you can get just a few of a variety that you wish and there are often very interesting hybrids available that may not be found in seed form such as heirlooms.
Less maintenance. As noted, some varieties of plants do not transplant well. Even if they do, quite a bit of babying is necessary to get them off to a good start. They must be hardened off so they can adapt to outdoor conditions such as temperature changes, soil difference, wind, and bright light.
Fewer environmental/cultural issues. Most nursery grown plants are started in a controlled environment, rather than in the home, leading to less pest and disease issues. Seedlings started at home are more prone to damping off and other fungal issues since they are in a confined medium that may retain too much moisture and where air circulation is not optimum in many cases. A huge disadvantage of seeds vs. transplants is lack of sunlight during early growth. Veggies need 8 hours of sunlight daily to fuel themselves. Indoor growing situations often lack enough light and result in leggy or scraggly plants. Using plant lights can help but creates a cumbersome, expensive growing area.
Do Seed Planting Downsides Win Out Over Transplants?
Gardening is one big experiment, even if you are an expert. There are so many conditions that can’t be controlled outdoors or in the home. There are few seed planting downsides, such as taking more time or having some seeds fail, but the benefits far outweigh these and, best of all, you’ll get the reward of watching your plants grow from little seeds.
Using transplants that are professionally grown can increase your chances of success. But you don’t have to buy your transplants if you don’t wish. Starting seeds vs. buying plants can be more cost effective. You can save your own seed or start your own indoor transplants with purchased seed. Again, varieties that need a long season to fruit are ideal as self-started transplants.
One way to decide if seeding or transplanting is right for you and your zone is to do both and chart their rates of growth. Different plants will react differently to each method and this should be noted, so the next year you can do things in the most successful manner.