Starting Seedlings at Home or Buying Seedlings: Which is Best for the Home Gardener?

Which is Best: Starting Seedlings at Home or Buying Seedlings?

There’s been a lot of debate recently: Sanders or Clinton? Should Obama nominate a Supreme Court nominee? These are a couple of the great questions of 2016. But for gardeners there is one more question: Starting seedlings at home or buying them from a nursery? Let’s delve into this quandary.

7 pros of starting seedlings at home:

1. You will save money. The best quality seeds will cost $4-6 per pack, and each pack will contain approximately 40-150 seeds. You can grow a lot of seedlings from a few packs of seeds.

2. More heirloom varieties + unusual varieties = (nearly) infinite choice. My favorite seed catalog has 15 choices of heirloom tomatoes and 18 choices of heirloom beans. You will not find that kind of variety at a nursery.

3. The sense of satisfaction in knowing that you grew the tomatoes from the very start to the very end is incredibly satisfying. It’s also locally grown produce at its best.

4. Organic start to finish (a.k.a. control plant health and growing conditions). Maybe you’re like me and you like control. By starting seedlings at home I have absolute assurance that the vegetables I’m harvesting are 100 percent organic. I start with organic seeds, plant them in organic potting soil combined with organic compost, and I grow a purely organic plant.

5. Starting seedlings at home cures cabin fever. If you live in colder climate, you know the struggle of being stuck inside during the winter. The antidote? Have seedlings–with their promise of warmer weather–growing in your home. Also, seed catalogs are better than porn for gardeners suffering from cabin fever. Trust me: There is something far more satisfying about flipping through pages of beef steak tomatoes than flipping through pages of “beef cakes.”

6. Teach your children well. We all know the importance of educating our children about where there food comes from. And I’ve never met a kiddo who didn’t love getting her hands dirty. So, get the kiddos involved in starting seedlings at home and you may be planting more than seeds–you may be planting the next generation of gardeners.

7. Chances are, you won’t use all of the seeds you bought. So, you’ll have a head start and more seeds for next year’s harvest.

3 cons of starting seedlings at home:

1. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but not all of your seeds will germinate.

2. You will need to invest time. Planting the seedlings, watering them, and turning them to optimize their sun exposure all take time. And then you have to harden them off–that’s the process by which you gradually introduce your seedlings to life outdoors a little bit each day. For example, the first day the seedlings are outside for 15 minutes, and you gradually increase their time outside over the course of many weeks so that they’re ready to be outside all the time.

3. You need equipment and tools. Most of my seedling supplies are reused items such as plastic cherry tomato containers, salad green boxes, and reclaimed plastic tops. None of these items was difficult to collect, but it took some awareness over the course of a few months to set them aside.

4 pros of buying seedlings from a nursery:

1. You got a late start. I’ve been there and done that. This is why nurseries are great–for when growing season sneaks up on you.

2. Bigger plants. As much as I hate to admit it, seedlings at a nursery are always bigger than the ones I start at home. However, size may not matter much in the long run.

3. Your local nursery has knowledgeable staff. They have actually grown what you’re trying to grow in your local area.

4. You don’t have enough space. Your 500 square foot loft that you share with three roommates is barely large enough for you to breathe, let alone grow something. Seedlings don’t require a lot of space, but they do take over the top of my dining room table each year.

A couple cons of buying seedlings from a nursery:

1. The variety of seedlings they offer is limited.

2. The seedlings risk being infected by disease. Think of the nursery like a first grade classroom–one kiddo gets the flu and everyone gets it. One little seedling has potato blight and they all have it.

I know, it sounds like I’ve come down on the side of starting seedlings at home. The truth is I haven’t. For my gardens, I start seedlings at home AND buy from a nursery. The best of both worlds works for me. You’ll make your own choice.

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photo of seedling in hands via Shutterstock