Sowing Seeds

Five Good Reasons to Grow Your Garden from Seed

Heirloom flowers such as sweet William (above: Dianthus ‘Jolt’ visited by silver spotted skipper), love-in-a-mist and love-lies-bleeding offer romance, drama, and fragrance to the garden, and they draw pollinators!

1. You’ll Have Many More Choices

Cornell’s Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners, a citizen science program, describes 574 pepper varieties, 370 lettuces and an astonishing 910 types of tomatoes. Only a fraction of these can be bought as seedlings. You’ll have a hard time finding the delicious and highly rated ‘Carmello’ tomato in a pot, or one of the great tasting new container tomatoes, or ‘Topepo,’ a sweet Italian heirloom.

The same with flowers. Your local nursery rarely offers interesting and unusual plants such as bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis), or delicate love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), or even easy-to-grow, evening scented four o’clocks (Mirabilis jalapa).

2. You Can Control Quality

basil opal & thai lemon
Seedlings started indoors will thrive when provided with plenty of light and enough water to keep the soil moist but not soggy. Begin feeding them with a half-strength liquid fertilizer when they have two sets of leaves. Above, Thai Lemon basil and Dark Opal basil, grown from seed.

Even if you are lucky enough to find your desired tomato, pepper, and flower varieties as plants, should you buy them? The answer depends on how well you know the grower. Seedlings that have dried out at some point in their lives or become root bound will not perform well in the garden. When you grow your own you’ll know that they’re being well cared for until the time is right for planting, and that they’ve been grown without unwanted chemicals.

Plants grown under poor conditions will not produce adequate foliage or yields.
– UMD College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

3. Growing From Seed Is Easier

Larkspur and dill bloom in unison in early summer. Both are easy to grow by sowing seed directly in the garden.
Larkspur and dill bloom in unison in early summer. Both are easy to grow by sowing seed directly in the garden.

It’s a fact: many plant varieties are more successful when grown from seed sown directly in the garden. These include root vegetables, herbs in the carrot family such as cilantro and dill, baby salad greens of any kind and flowers that are best sown very early in the season, such as larkspur, bells of Ireland, and love-in-a-mist.

Other vegetables and flowers are so easy to grow from seed that buying seedlings makes little sense. Squash, melons, beans, peas, sunflowers, zinnias, nasturtiums and cosmos are a few.

Garden centers routinely sell small blooming transplants. Flowers such as zinnias, marigolds, and celosias will do better in the long run if planted before they bloom—yet another reason to buy and grow seed!

Read packets of beans, root vegetables, greens, and other plants for seedling spacing. Sca-er seeds of greens and root vegetables about an inch apart in the garden soil, otherwise plants will be overcrowded and will not thrive.
Read packets of beans, root vegetables, greens, and other plants for seedling spacing. Scatter seeds of greens and root vegetables about an inch (2.5 cm) apart in the garden soil, otherwise plants will be overcrowded and will not thrive

Plants Best Sown Directly In Garden Soil

  • Baby greens: lettuce, arugula, spinach and others
  • Beans and peas
  • Corn
  • Roots: beets, carrots, radishes, turnips and others
  • Scallions
  • Squash, melons and cucumbers
  • Swiss chard
  • Annual herbs: basil, cilantro, dill
  • Many annual flowers: cosmos, nasturtiums, sunflowers, zinnias, cleome, amaranth, celosia and others
  • Flowering vines: morning glories, scarlet runner Bean, hyacinth bean and others
  • Flowers sown in fall or early spring, such as larkspur, bells of Ireland, bachelor buttons and love-in-a-mist

4. You’ll Save Money

Community garden plot showing cabbage and kale.
A 2008 National Gardening Association study estimated that U.S. food gardening households spent an average of $70 a year on their gardens. With a yield of about 1/2 pound of produce per square foot, an average 600-square-foot garden can produce 300 pounds of produce worth $600!

Lush, extravagant swaths of color are within your budget. A whole packet of zinnia, sunflower, or marigold seeds can be purchased for about the same cost as a six-pack of seedlings, or even a single seedling in some markets.

A productive vegetable garden can feed your family all year for a fraction of what you would pay for equivalent produce at your local grocer or farmers’ market. An added advantage of buying seeds rather than plants: you’ll be able to sow succession plantings of greens, beans, and other crops for a second harvest!

All the flowers of tomorrow are in the seeds of today.
~ Ancient proverb

5. It’s Fun to Do!

Tomato seedlings in multipacks.
Moisten the soil mix to the consistency of a wrung out sponge before planting seeds in multipacks or recycled containers from the grocery store. A good rule of thumb for starting tomatoes (above), peppers, eggplants and annual flowers: plant two to three seeds in a cell and thin to one when the seedlings grow their first set of true leaves.

It’s also magical, and gives you a feeling on independence and, yes, power, to watch a seed germinate and grow into a healthy seedling, connecting you to nature even as frigid weather may be confining you to the indoors. 

The real question is … 

Why not grow your garden from seed?

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Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

2 comments on “Five Good Reasons to Grow Your Garden from Seed

  1. Growing from seed lifts the spirits too and we all need to see things grow from the first green shoot!

  2. It is SO annoying to see root vegetable seedlings (carrots, beets, radishes, etc.), corn seedlings and bean seedlings in nurseries. I sort of dislike purchasing from nurseries with such a lack of moral standards.

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