Seeds or Seedlings?

People new to gardening ask Enviro Girl this question all the time.  “I’m planning a garden this year–should I buy seeds or seedlings?”  Enviro Girl’s answer?  That depends, in part, on where you live. Enviro Girl resides in Zone 5, which means a short growing season.  Not sure of your zone?  Check out the handy map below–when you shop for seeds and plants, you’ll need to know your zone–your zone determines your climate–temperature extremes, moisture and length of growing season.

In Zone 5, you’re foolish to plant anything before Mother’s Day.  Conversely, folks living in Zone 7 have begun planting seeds by the time this post goes up.

If you’ve got the luxury of a long growing season (Zones 7-10, she’s talking to YOU), you’ll have fantastic luck planting seeds.  If you’re pressed for time, you’ll either want to start your seeds indoors in a month or buy seedlings in May when you’re ready to plant.

Some plants grow really well from seeds. Enviro Girl keeps a running list in her garden journal of successful seed plantings.  These include:  beans, corn, peas, squash (summer and winter varieties), pumpkins, cucumbers, carrots, radishes, cosmos (flower), zinnia (flower), sunflowers, beets, lettuce, spinach, and gourds. These varieties all have short germination periods (80-120 days) and mature before September in her garden.

Other plants grow better when they’re started inside. Enviro Girl  opts to buy seedlings (4-8 inch plants started by a local greenhouse) for the following:  eggplant, tomato, broccoli, cauliflower, basil, peppers, zucchini, petunias (flower) and onions.  She’s also bought berries, rhubarb and asparagus helpfully started out before she planted them in her own garden.

Seeds cost less than seedlings, but Enviro Girl admits to not wanting a packet’s worth of zucchini plants, so buying a 3-pack of seedlings instead of a packet makes sense in her garden.

Enviro Girl has tried to start some seeds indoors, but this is tricky business, requiring a lot of attention to soil density, moisture and sun exposure.  Unfortunately, her seedlings get “leggy” (too tall) and don’t transplant well into her garden come May.  In the case of starting seeds indoors, timing is everything and she’s happy to let the professionals at the greenhouse down the road master the art.  If you are inclined to give indoor planting a go, Enviro Girl recommends investing in good starting soil and a mister.

Most gardeners plant a combination of seeds AND seedlings since some plants need a head start and a little extra TLC. That said, there is NO shame in planting all seedlings if that’s easiest–there’s no point in torturing yourself in the garden and no point in growing things you won’t eat.  The best advice Enviro Girl can give a new gardener is this:  Don’t overplant–pick a half dozen things you love to eat and “grow” from there.


3 thoughts on “Seeds or Seedlings?

  1. I do a combination of seeds and seedlings too — I have had no luck with starting tomatoes, peppers, basil, or cucumbers inside and then transplanting them, so I buy those. Everything else, however, gets started from seeds that I direct-sow. In fact — and don’t hate me for living in zone 7 — I planted the first wave of peas, kale, and spinach yesterday. Lettuce and carrots, plus more peas, will go in soon.

  2. I’ve had limited luck starting seeds indoors. Like you, I buy seedlings for tomatoes and peppers. As for starting now? Good heavens, we just got 4 inches of wet, heavy snow today!!

  3. I buy more seeds than anything – but then I’m cheap.
    Plus, I share seeds, cuttings, plantings with my friends, neighbors and family and then they share back with me. It’s a wonderful way to grow a garden and friendships at the same time.

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