Are Seeds or Seedlings Better For Starting a Vegetable Garden?

Mature hands planting seeds
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How Do You Decide Whether to Plant Your Vegetable Garden from Seed or Transplants?

It's certainly easier to start your vegetable garden by planting directly into the garden, by-passing indoor seed starting, and transplanting. However some vegetables take several months to mature from seed, so it's just not practical to direct sow them in the garden where the growing season is short. That's why when it comes to long season plants like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, most gardeners either start their own plants indoors or purchase seedlings from the nursery.

The choice between direct seeding and transplanting seedlings comes down to 2 basic questions:

  1. Does the vegetable transplant well?
  2. Is your growing season long enough for the vegetables to mature when planted from seed?

These two questions often over-lap. For instance, tomatoes would need a 4 or 5-month growing season to mature from seed, which gardeners in warm climates can provide. However, thankfully, they transplant very well and can be grown just about anywhere, if plants are set out instead of seeds.

Root crops and vegetables with tap roots generally don't transplant well and need to be direct seeded. Some quick growing crops, like peas and summer squash, really don't benefit from being started indoors as seedlings, because plants direct seeded in the garden will quickly catch up to transplants.

Seed packets will give you most of the information you'll need about whether to direct seed in the garden or whether you'll need to start them so many weeks before your last frost.

The lists below will give you some idea of what to plan for.

Vegetables that are Usually Direct Seeded:

Beans, beets, carrots, corn, cucumbers, garlic, lettuce, micro greens, muskmelons, okra, parsnips, peas, pumpkins, radishes, rutabaga, salsify, squash, turnips, watermelon

Vegetables that Transplant Well:

Basil, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chard, chives, collards, eggplant, endive, escarole, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, mustard, okra, onions, parsley, peppers, tomatoes

Then there are a handful of vegetables that aren't usually grown from seed at all. They're grown vegetatively. [See list below.]

Whatever your choice, direct seeding, seed starting or purchasing seedlings, it's best to decide while you are planning your vegetable garden. You'll want to get your plants in the ground as early as possible, to give them time to acclimate to the warming weather and to give them the longest growing season possible.

Plants Usually Started From other than Seed

ArtichokesRoot Divisions
Asparagus1-Year Old Roots
HorseradishRoot Cuttings
PotatoesSeed Potatoes
RhubarbRoot Crowns
Sweet PotatoesSlips