Wondering why to start plants from seed - is it worth your time? Here are the four reasons why it's a great idea, as well as tips to get started and when to plant for your area.
You can find more seed starting information in our Seed Starting Guide.
When I first started gardening I planted flowers I bought from nurseries and stores, which is what most people I knew did.
It wasn't until I added in some vegetables that I even thought about growing plants from seeds. And even then it was a few years after growing edibles - at first I only planted what I could find offered in my local stores.
In that amount of time, though, I realized that what the stores offered - and when they offered them - was really limiting what I could grow. I started researching seed catalogs to look at varieties and learn how to successfully grow seeds indoors.
Successfully being the key word. I knew from growing seeds in windowsills as a kid that the plants were always thin, lanky, and usually leaning to one side. Nothing like the seedlings I saw in the stores.
Through trial and error (pretty much a gardener's life, right?) I figured out some tips and tricks to start seeds indoors that didn't break the bank (a quick look at the price of seed starting stations in a garden catalog will tell you what I'm talking about) AND results in healthy, stocky plants that will thrive in your garden.
And once I started growing my own plants from seeds, I realized even more why it was so important for any gardener!
Why To Start Plants From Seed
Why Grow Plants From Seeds
Why should you take the time to grow your plants from seeds when a small garden can be planted easily with a few 6-packs from the store that only cost a couple dollars? There are actually quite a few reasons, but I'm listing what I call the "Big Four" here.
Here are the four big reasons to grow your plants from seed:
- Variety. There are literally thousands of choices available through seed catalogs. The stores and nurseries pick the varieties they like or that are popular only, being limited in what they can offer. It's fun to try new varieties each year. You can also decided to grow only heirloom or only organic seed, or anything you want, without someone else deciding for you.
- Cost. Even though the 6-packs are not that expensive, a packet of 50 to 1000 seeds (depending on the variety) costs between $1.00 - $4.00, with most in the $2 range. The seeds will last 3 to 4 years when stored properly (here's my seed storing method), so right there it's a cost savings. But if one or two of the seedlings in the 6-pack dies, you have to go back to the store, whereas if you've got seed in reserve, you can just start a couple more. This is especially true with things like lettuce that you should be sown multiple times, starting them inside and then sowing later directly in the ground.
- Timing. When you have your own seeds, you are not at the whim of when the stores have the plants in stock. You can start your seeds when you want in order to have them out at the time YOU want. An example is tomatoes. I like to set some of mine out early using Wall-O-Waters or other covers in order to get ripe tomatoes earlier, but it would be hard to find plants in April when I need them. Starting my own allows me to be in control of when I am able to get my plants in the ground.
- Control. When we start our own seeds, we determine how they are raised and what fertilizers and supplements they get, if any. This is especially nice if you'd like to be as organic as possible making sure the plants do not get any synthetic fertilizers even in their seedling stages.
I'm pretty sure that once you see how easy it is and experience all the benefits like me, you will never go back to relying on the stores for your garden!
When To Start Your Seeds
Now that you're all set to start sowing some seeds (because you are, right?), there are two things you'll want do as soon as you can in early winter:
- Place your seed orders in your favorite catalogs as soon as possible to get the best choices. (You can visit this page if you're wondering what catalogs I order from.)
- Make a list of when your seeds need to be planted for your area.
Use the Organic Gardening Checklist you can find in the Subscriber Library for a guideline to the optimal times to start your seeds. The checklist is for a climate like mine, zone 8, the temperate climate west of the PNW Cascades, but it can serve as a template for other areas by just changing the dates according to your area.
Need to find your area's planting dates?
This vegetable planting schedule by Urban Farmer is a great tool. You can plug in your zone if you know it or navigate to your state for more detailed planting information, including first and last frost dates of the town you're located in.
How to Grow Plants From Seeds
Once you have decided to start seeds, purchased the seeds, and figured out your planting dates, all you have left is to actually plant the seeds.
I've got you covered there with this gardening 101 series where you'll find the quick, inexpensive way I start seeds indoors:
- Vegetable Garden 101: How to Start Plants from Seeds
- Vegetable Garden 101: Caring For Seedlings at Week 1
- Vegetable Garden 101: Caring for Seedlings at Week 6
- Vegetable Garden 101: How to Plant Seedlings in the garden
Are these tutorials only for vegetable seeds or do they work for flower seeds?
The steps to planting seeds are the same for both vegetables and flowers!
You start any plants from seed in basically the same way. There are always a few exceptions, of course (the tough coated sweet pea seeds that should be pre-germinated, for one), and there are seeds that do best planted directly in the ground when your soil is warm enough (carrots, beets, and corn are three examples)
One Big Planting Tip
I've seen a number of seed starting tutorials that have you just add dry seed starting mix to the containers, plant the seeds, and then water from the top with a hose.
I don't agree with that, having experienced watering dry soil mix from the top results in a couple of things to be avoided:
- The soil will only be wet on the top, not all through the cell.
- The cell or container will be flooded and the seeds will float away or to the top.
How to Plant Seeds In Pots and Containers
So, what's the best way to plant seeds in pots and containers?
- Always pre-wet the seed starting soil before packing into the cells.
- Plant the seeds in the moist soil and cover with the recommended amount of soil (usually just 1/4-inch).
- Then use a gentle shower of warm water over the tops of the containers.
If I'm next to a sink, I will use the pull-out spray faucet on low. If not, use a small watering can. Afterwards, it's bottom only watering as the seedlings germinate and grow.
You can read the tutorial on starting plants from seeds for more details about this.
I guess you can see that once you try it, I think you'll see that growing your own plants from seeds is easy and definitely do-able!
OK, let's get ready to start plants from seeds. It'll be fun, I promise!
This article has been updated - it was originally published in January of 2010.