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I am a new gardener, and am really excited to grow my own vegetables. It's end of May, so I may have missed the boat slightly in terms of planting seeds and growing a tomato plant from that. Next year, I will be prepared, and will maximize the growing season. But what do I do? Do I buy a packet of seeds, do seed starters, and then transplant into a pot or the ground? Or just buy a tomato plant and transplant that into my pot?

It seems that buying a plant just saves a little work and is many many times more expensive (a plant could be a few bucks, and a single seed in a packet might be a nickel). The plant would help me this year because I missed the boat in the spring to plant seeds, so it might help me make up for that. But outside of being lazy and/or lack of planning, is there really a reason to buy plants, when you could have just planted a seedling a few months prior? Are there any benefits to buying the tomato plant.

Can anybody share their thoughts/experiences on the matter? My questions are about growing all vegetables, not just the tomato example I used above.

EDIT: I live in the SF Bay Area. The climate here is pretty mild/nice.

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I've been gardening for years and do a mix.

For veggies that I can direct seed in the garden or start in seed trays outside - greens, peas, beans, radishes, squash, cucumbers, carrots, fall cabbage and broccoli, okra, etc. - I use seeds. They are much cheaper, and there is plenty of time to grow them from seed entirely out doors in my climate.

For veggies which I would need to start indoors and transfer outside, like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, I buy plants. I just don't have the space or inclination to care for the plants indoors, and I find that I have a decent number of varieties (including some heirlooms) to choose from locally, so I'm not that motivated to put in the effort.

I'm not sure where you live, but even if it is late for spring planting where you are, I am sure there are some things you can still direct seed. A lot of gardeners succession plant - so don't plant everything at once in the spring, but plant small patches for as long as their climate allows. Maybe you could purchase some plants this year, and seed others.

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Buying seeds and growing seedlings can certainly be less expensive. Seedlings that you grow yourself require attention and care and space the right environmental conditions (warmth, moisture, etc.). Some folks lack either the space, equipment, time and/or inclination to grow from seed.

Buying young plants (and not-so-young ones... I saw 2' tall tomato plants at a store the other day that had fruit on them) takes advantage of someone else's greenhouse and the work that went in to grow those plants from seed. So, you pay a lot more - sometimes a couple orders of magnitude more - for a plant rather than a seed.

I've done and do both.

If I've got time X weeks prior to the last average frost date for my zone (where X is whatever the appropriate number of weeks is for the given plant, e.g., for bell peppers it is around 8-10 weeks) then I'll grow some from seed. But that doesn't always happen due to my schedule, so I'll buy some plants locally and grow those.

I prefer to grow my own but, again, that doesn't always happen. I prefer it both because I like to grow heirloom varieties (not always available locally in plant form) and I dislike paying 50-100x more for a plant that I could grow from seed if I just planned for it.

That doesn't mean I won't buy plants though. I buy when it makes sense or is more convenient... life gets busy sometimes.

There's certainly nothing wrong with buying a plant. The veggies will be just as great whether you grew it from seed or from a plant you bought.

Plants take different amounts of time to mature. If you don't have enough growing days left in the year (and don't have a greenhouse or other similar method of extending the growing season) to grow from seed but you do have enough for a transplant from a garden center or local grower, then opt for the plant this year and plan accordingly next year. Gardening is very much about planning.

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I know people who have been gardening for decades and buy their tomatoes, peppers, etc. from a local garden center.

I prefer to do my own starts, but sometimes I miss the window for getting things started and I go get plants in the late spring. Sometimes it depends on the plant: I've started onions from seed in the past, but this year I purchased sets. From seed, onions need to be started in February for setting out in May (at least where I live). From sets, you can just go to the store on the day you're doing to plant, buy a bag, and drop them in the ground. I have also done celery from seed a couple of times, but I missed the window this year, and if I can find a local supplier with good plants I will probably not bother with starting my own celery from seed again.

Starting from seed requires some infrastructure and space. You need adequate light, a place to store the growing plants, enough heat to keep the soil warm so that the seeds germinate, water, containers, a place to store potting soil and fertilizer (if you live where it freezes during the winter, you can't store it outside or it will be a solid block when you need to use it), and more containers and more space for potting up seedlings to larger pots as they grow.

An advantage of starting from seed is that you can get a better selection of varieties. A seed catalog can offer dozens of varieties of, say, tomatoes. But your local grower can only afford to stock a few different varieties, and then probably only the varieties that are the most well known (and thus commercially viable). This has been my main motivation in the past for growing onions from seed.

It is rewarding to see something that you grew from seed (perhaps even seed that you saved yourself the prior year -- completing the loop), but it does not make you any less of a "real" gardener if you choose to buy started plants.

(The chef at the gourmet steak restaurant does lose any credibility because she doesn't raise her own beef, right?)

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Gardening in the UK where the weather in spring is quite variable from one year to another, I make the choice depending on the type of plant.

Seeds can be planted straight into the ground outside and which won't be affected by a late cold spell (e.g. peas and beans) go straight into the ground.

If the growing season outside won't start until after any really bad weather has gone, but the seedlings need protection and extra care to get started, I will usually plant seed indoors, knowing when to expect the plants to be ready to go outside.

The third group are things where you want to start them outside as early as possible, but the actual date might vary by 3 or 4 weeks from one year to the next. Planting seeds to early and keeping the seedlings indoors for too long results in poor quality plants. Planting the seeds too late "wastes" good growing time outdoors. So buying plants and planting them immediately is the most risk-free option, even if it's not the cheapest.

All of the above applies to annual flowers just as well as to vegetables.

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Yes , both. An important factor is money : Seeds = free ( plus time and effort), Flats get expensive for a dozen of this, a dozen of that, etc. Of course one must occasionally try a couple of the best new tomato hybrid and a couple other specialties. I think buying things like curcubits, peas, beans, lettuce, spinach , as plants is for non-gardeners. I have had a secret weapon when I planted seeds : I bought them at a seed shop where each package contained more than a 10 year supply for a home gardener. I stored unused seed for years in the refrigerator. And germination stayed high depending on sprouting technique. One story - after a couple years one lettuce did not seem to germinate well a couple years. So, the next year I emptied the package in a row believing the folklore about the age of seeds ; Good weather and I had what looked like a row of grass pop-up.

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I recommend you do both.

  • If you never buy plants, you don't really know how well your seed-starting stacks up against store-bought plants.
  • Store-bought plants generally perform very well, if you get a good variety. The sellers are professionals, and they tend to know things about starting plants that your average gardener doesn't (such as about how different temperatures affect plants at different stages of their growth), which can make a big difference. They also have more resources. Be careful, though, since store-bought plants can come diseased, or with pests. Or, the store itself may not have taken good care of them.
  • Many of the varieties they sell in the store just might be optimized for your climate.
  • If you start plants from seed, you can choose from a much larger selection.
  • Seed-starting is fun.
  • Seed-starting isn't as inexpensive as you might think (especially if you follow everyone's advice), unless you have a really good system going.
  • It's great to know how to garden if you can't buy plants some year.
  • If you grow from seed, you can save your own seeds to grow.

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