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Choosing between seeds and seedlings

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It can be a bit of a challenge to work out whether or not to use seeds or seedlings. This article presents a range of reasons for choosing each, along with reasons that might help you to prefer one over the other according to the context, season and type of plant.

Seeds[edit]

For most plants, seeds are cheaper than seedlings, unless you've grown the seedlings yourself. This can be a key deciding factor if you're on a tight budget. Most seed sources, either through self collection of seeds on existing plants in your garden (or another garden) or from a commercial package will contain a large amount of seeds in comparison to the amount of seedlings that could be purchased for the same price.

Some plants prefer to be grown from seeds direct into the ground and fare poorly when transferred, such as the herb coriander or carrots and beetroot, which all tend to work better when planted from seed. It pays to do research on plants to know which ones are better planted directly from seed where they're meant to grow.

Seeds give access to a much broader range of plant varieties than seedlings in most situations. Unless you have access to a decent selection of seedlings in your local nursery, seeds can often provide much greater choice.

Seeds of a good size or plants that mature quickly are often a good choice for sowing direct into garden beds or fields. For such plantings, focus on plants that don't need an indoor head start to ensure maturity is reached before the season's end.

Plants typically grown direct in the garden from seed:

  • Beans
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Peas
  • Radishes
  • Salad greens
  • Squash
  • Sweetcorn
  • Turnips

Seedlings[edit]

Seedlings are ideal if:

  • You've left the planting until late in the relevant season; a seedling can overcome the problems of leaving planting until too late in the season. In many cases, it's better to plant seedlings than to miss the enjoyment or need of growing the plants altogether.
  • The area where you're planting is less likely to nurture seeds than seedlings (due to soil conditions, pests, etc.)
  • When you want to enthuse others to get started with gardening, such as children or first-time gardeners; it's rewarding quickly to see seedlings growing in the ground.
  • Space may be an issue; you might not have sufficient space to harbour seed trays and/or time to spend tending to the seeds as they grow. Seed-raising mix may be an additional cost you're not willing to bear.

See also[edit]