Sowing Seeds

Five Good Reasons to Grow Your Garden from Seed

Heirloom flowers such as sweet william (above), love-in-a-mist and love-lies-bleeding offer romance, drama, and fragrance to the garden, and they draw pollinators!

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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Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. After studies at the University of Toronto and Laval University where he obtained his B.A. in modern languages in 1978, he succeeded in combining his language skills with his passion for gardening in a novel career as a garden writer and lecturer. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He is a regular contributor to and horticultural consultant for Fleurs, Plantes, Jardins garden magazine and has written for many other garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Rebecca’s Garden and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 50 other titles in English and French. He can be seen in Quebec on French-language television and was notably a regular collaborator for 7 years on the TV shows Fleurs et Jardins and Salut Bonjour Weekend. He is the President of the Garden Writers Association Foundation and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. An avid proponent of garden tourism, he has lead garden tours throughout Canada and to the gardens of over 30 countries over the last 30 years. He presently resides in Quebec City, Quebec.

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

  1. 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.

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

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