Panting for Planting?

Antsy to get out in the garden with a shovel to start making magic?  Yeah, me too. For those planning their first garden a valid question is: Should I start my annuals and veggies from seed or buy transplants? In the interest of point/counterpoint (see “The Need for Seed”) may I present some considerations for why you might skip the seed route and head directly for plants?

Time is priceless.   Do you want to spend the 6-8 weeks before May 15 (average last frost-free date) planting seeds and thinning seedlings? You bet, there’s a huge feeling of accomplishment when you successfully grow your own seeds. Or would you rather bank those hours for later to get down and garden-dirty digging mature plants that make a show from Day One?

Your plant needs are not out-of-the-ordinary.   You’re a good gardener, you are. The question is, “Do you need varieties that are so new/rare you can never find them for sale?” Believe me, as a plant geek I love the hunt, too. Or, do you go to the garden center and happily find the varieties you want? If you’re of the latter persuasion and find the overwhelming majority (or reasonable subs) of what you’re looking for, do you need the satisfaction of growing the plants?

Lack of light.   Let’s face it. The reality is sometimes it’s hard enough to find a brightly lit window for a favorite houseplant. And if you’re heading for the basement (often a logical greenhouse sub. space) how much natural light are those baby plants going to receive in a subterranean environment? Are you prepared to construct an artificial light set-up that most basement-reared seedlings will require? 

Lack of suitable growing space.   You don’t have the luxury of space to set up a “greenhouse” for 6-8 weeks in the middle of the dining room. Now you’re expected to duplicate greenhouse: temps, humidity, and great air circulation needed to successfully start seeds. Even if you can meet some of the criteria it can be challenging to home-grow and produce plants that are uniform, short, stocky and insect/disease-free. But lots of people do, absolutely.

Quantity needed.   You need 600 annuals and 200 veggie transplants. Do you have the indoor “acreage” required for large volumes of seedlings? I would guess that many of us don’t. Even I draw the line at walking past a dining table full of peat pots for two months.

Investment.   Lights? Tables? Fans? Containers? Water-proof trays? More? How far, how professional do you want/need your growing set-up to be? Do you have a place to store the seed-starting equipment throughout the year? Is cost (effectiveness) a consideration or a non-issue?

Special needs plants.   There’s a lot to consider when growing plants from seed. Greenhouse growers are a savvy bunch of women and men. Each seed species has its own specific needs to even germinate. Does the seed need to be soaked or the seed coat “nicked” before planting? Does the seed need to be covered, or on the surface? Does it need light or dark to germinate? What temperatures does it need? Does it need temperature variation from day to night to grow? What percentage of relative humidity is needed for success? What are the moisture requirements – dry, damp, constantly moist during germination? I repeat – specialized skills….

Don’t let me be the killjoy that squelches the idea of growing your own plants from seed if you’ve the inclination and the place to do it successfully. Me, I’ll be out filling a cart in the nursery.