Seeds vs. Plants: The Pros and Cons

If you’ve read much of this blog, you know that most of the vegetables, flowers, and even herbs I grow began as seeds germinated in my little greenhouse. Frankly, I get a little giddy every late winter when these arrive:

Some of this year's seed order.

Some of this year’s seed order.

I have my reasons for preferring this method, but there are plenty of good reasons to plant your flower and vegetable gardens with small plants you buy locally. Today, I thought I’d go over a few of the pros and cons for each method.

A few of the seeds of varieties I've successfully germinated so far this year.

A few of the seeds of varieties I’ve successfully germinated so far this year.

Starting from Seed: Pros

  • You can grow exactly the varieties you want because you order the seeds and grow them yourself.
  • Seeds are much less expensive than plants, so you can grow more of everything.
  • You control growing conditions for your plants from germination to transplantation in their permanent locations in your garden.
  • The big sense of accomplishment that comes from doing it all yourself is a great feeling.

Starting from Seed: Cons

  • Unless you can provide optimal indoor conditions for germination, you may get poor germination rates.
  • If you direct-sow in the garden, you are at the mercy of the weather. You can ameliorate a lack of rain with watering, but you must watch for soil crusting that can prevent seeds from emerging, and if you get a hard rain, seeds will travel remarkable distances, or disappear entirely.
  • If you direct-sow in the garden, you also must watch for raids from marauding voles, and if soil temperatures are too cool or too warm, some seeds won’t germinate.
From let to right: Dianthus 'Lace Perfume,' Italian 'Gigante' Parsley, Tuscan Baby Leaf Kale, and Italian Aromatic Sage seeds.

From let to right: Dianthus ‘Lace Perfume,’ Italian ‘Gigante’ Parsley, Tuscan Baby Leaf Kale, and Italian Aromatic Sage seeds.

  • Most herb seeds, many flower seeds, and even a lot of vegetable seeds are quite small. You’ll need practice to become adept at handling them, putting them where you want them, etc.
From left to right: Tyee spinach, Merlot lettuce, La Roma III tomato, and Etiuda pepper seeds.

From left to right: Tyee spinach, Merlot lettuce, La Roma III tomato, and Etiuda pepper seeds (click on the image to see a larger version of the photo.

  • Soil depth is critical when planting seeds. Many beginners plant seeds too deeply, which prevents their germination. Follow planting depth directions on the seed packets assiduously.

Starting from Plants You Buy: Pros

  • You save enormous amounts of time by not having to bother with seed germination, and transplanting and nurturing seedlings until they’re ready for your garden.
  • You can buy exactly the number of plants you want without spending time trying to find homes for extra plants you grew because of inaccurate guessing of seed germination rates.
  • You can see living plants before you buy them, rather than relying on often-overflattering catalog descriptions. This allows you to select the sturdiest, healthiest plants with the best root systems.
  • If you live in an area like mine, where farmers’ markets abound, you’ll be able to purchase healthy, locally grown plants ready for your garden. And because these folks usually sell the same varieties they grow for market, you’ll be able to choose from plants well-adapted for your area, grown by experts who love their work. And they often sell heirloom varieties of plants as well as hybrid choices.

Starting from Plants: Cons

  • If your only option for plant starts is a big box store’s garden section, you usually won’t get great plants. These are often grown in one place and shipped all over the country, so varieties aren’t necessarily the best for your region, and are usually limited to a few choices. Also, the plants are not treated well during shipping or even in the garden section at the store. Have you ever noticed how staff at such places leave innocent plants out in conditions that are too hot and/or too cold? And how they water the poor things? Find a better local source for your plants or suffer the consequences.
  • You don’t know if your purchased plants always grew in optimal conditions. Even if they look healthy, if they were exposed to temperatures below 50 degrees, studies have shown that tomato plants are never as productive as those maintained above that temperature.
  • Often the sizes of plants you buy are limited. Early in the season, they may all be small. Small plants don’t handle transplanting stress as well as larger ones. On the other hand, larger transplants can break during transplanting. As with seed sowing, transplanting takes practice and patience to perfect.
I grew these healthy tomato seedlings from seed. At this size, they require carefully handling during transplantation.

I grew these healthy tomato seedlings from seed. At this size, they require careful handling during transplantation.

  • Buying plants is more expensive than buying seeds, and if you lose plants during transplanting, you’ll spend more money to buy replacements. Most folks will buy fewer varieties when they buy plants instead of seeds because of cost considerations.

I hope this helps my fellow Piedmont gardeners as they contemplate this year’s growing season. Time, money, and experience all impact what you decide to grow. I hope this post helps you clarify how you’ll choose what to grow in your garden this year.

My seed-grown Italian parsley germinated better than I anticipated. I'm going to need to be creative about finding spots for all of them.

My seed-grown Italian parsley germinated better than I anticipated. I’m going to need to be creative about finding spots for all of them.

, , ,

  1. Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: