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Urban Farming: How to Decide Whether to Buy Seeds or Transplants

When you’re planning to grow an annual flowers or vegetables on your urban farm, you need to decide whether you want to start with seeds or transplants. Growing annual plants from seeds offers the following advantages:

  • Variety: Buying seeds enables you to select from a wider range of plant varieties than what you typically find at a local garden center.

  • Price: Buying seeds is more cost effective and can save you money. For example, you can grow 20 to 30 tomato plants from a single packet of seed that costs only a few dollars. Buying that many tomato transplants could cost you ten times as much money. The same is true for many annual flowers.

  • Availability: Sometimes buying seeds is the only way to go. Not only are some vegetables best grown from seed, but others are available only in that form. Root crops, such as carrots, beets, parsnips, and radishes, for example, never come as transplants, so you must use seeds to grow them.

  • History: Growing your own plants from seeds is a satisfying experience. Plus, you know exactly what fertilizers and pesticides have been used to grow them.

On the other hand, buying transplants offers some unique advantages that a small-space, time-crunched urban gardener can really appreciate:

  • Growing season: Some plants, like tomatoes and petunias, don’t have enough time to produce flowers or fruits when grown from seeds planted directly in the garden in most parts of the country. As a result, you have to start their seeds early indoors before the weather is warm enough to plant outside.

    Many urban gardeners don’t have the space, time, or suitable conditions to start plants early in their homes. So purchasing transplants that have been grown in ideal greenhouse conditions is often the most practical way to go with these kinds of plants.

  • Convenience: Transplants are easy and immediate. When you purchase a ready-to-plant transplant, you can put it in the ground that day — no waiting, no fussing. Many times they’ve already been hardened off and are ready to grow when you buy them.

  • Quantity: Transplants are good for small gardens. If you’re growing only a few tomatoes, six basil plants, and a few marigolds, buying a few transplants is much easier than buying a whole packet of each plant, especially since you’ll use only a few seeds.

  • Survival: Transplants are more likely to survive. A well-grown transplant with a healthy root system that has been professionally grown is often more likely to survive the vagaries of weather and pests than a tender young seedling just starting out in the world.

If you decide to grow your annual flower and vegetable garden from seeds, you have to decide whether the plants you’re planting are best sown directly into the garden or are better started from seeds indoors a number of weeks before planting outdoors. Here are some of the easiest direct sown vegetables and annual flowers:

  • Direct sown vegetables: Squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, lettuce, spinach, beans, peas, kale, Swiss chard, beets, and carrots

  • Direct sown annual flowers: Nasturtiums, poppies, morning glory, sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, sweet peas, cleome, and forget-me-nots

When you start seeds indoors before planting them outdoors, you’re basically growing your own transplants. During their time indoors, they grow large enough and mature enough to produce after you transplant them outdoors (just like transplants you buy at the store). The following plants are much simpler to grow from transplants:

  • Transplant vegetables: Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onions, leeks, and Brussels sprouts

  • Transplant annual flowers: Marigolds, geraniums, impatiens, begonias, petunias, pansies, and salvia

Many vegetables and annual flowers can be planted directly as seeds or as transplants. Which type you use depends on the length of your growing season and your patience with growing plants from seeds indoors and nursing them along.

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