Seeds vs. Transplants for Vegetable Gardening

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When starting a vegetable garden, one of the first decisions is whether to plant seeds or transplants. This article will help you determine which is best for your situation.

Seeds are Cheaper

On a per-plant basis, direct seeding will almost always win out when it comes to cost. However, if you only need two or three plants then the cost savings may be minimal. Also, keep in mind that seeds have a limited shelf life. Buying enough to last for several years could end up being a waste of money, especially if not stored under optimum conditions. 

Transplants are Faster

If April 20 is the recommended date to plant tomatoes, the gardener who uses transplants will get to harvest quicker than the gardener who plants seeds.

For Some Crops, Seeds are Preferable

In general crops with large seeds do very well when direct-seeded. In addition, most root crops are not very tolerant of transplanting. For the crops below, planting seeds is strongly preferred or almost mandatory. 

  • Beans and peas
  • Corn
  • Cucurbits (vine crops) such as squash, melons, cucumbers
  • Root crops such as turnips, carrots and radishes

Speed of Germination Varies

Some crops are very slow to germinate (same link as above) which makes direct seeding more challenging. The slower the germination, the more opportunities for problems such as rotting or predation. Seeds also require uniformly moist soil to germinate, which can be difficult to maintain over a longer time period. 

On the other hand, some crop seeds are so quick to germinate that there’s less advantage to spending the extra money on transplants. Those include lettuce, basil, kohlrabi, kale, and cabbage, for example.

In the end, for most crops it’s a matter of preference and many gardeners will use a combination of methods.