Seeds vs. Starter Plants: Which Should You Choose?

Seeds vs. Starter Plants: Which Should You Choose?

seedlings vs starter plants

By Erin Marissa Russell

When you’re planning what to grow each season in your garden, there’s an additional choice you may not have considered: whether to grow each plant from seeds or starter plants. Each gardening method has its benefits as well as its drawbacks, and they both perform best in certain situations. Most people choose to use a combination of growing plants from seed and starting with transplants in their gardens. Keep reading to find out when it makes sense to grow plants from seeds and when starter plants are the best option so that you can choose what’s best for your unique situation.

lettuce seedling planted from seed

Benefits of Starting from Seeds

  • Wider Selection: It’s much easier to find exactly what you’re looking for when you’re shopping for seeds. There’s a much wider array of seeds to choose from compared to starter plants, when you can order from online seed companies or seed catalogs as well as checking the seed racks at stores near you. While you can order starter plants from some companies or individual sellers online, the possibilities aren’t nearly as numerous. Whether you’ve been recommended an heirloom variety of zucchini that you want to try growing or you just enjoy choosing what you’ll grow this year from the widest variety possible, seeds win out when it comes to the diversity of your options. 
  • Lower Cost: Some seeds are more sought-after than others, so you can find seeds at a variety of prices—but most of the time, buying seeds will be less expensive than purchasing starter plants. The small, light seed packages are also much less complicated (and therefore less expensive) to ship than a live starter plant.

    You’ll need to purchase additional supplies to be ready to plant either seeds or young live plants, so even considering the complete cost of both options, the lower initial cost of seeds makes them  a more economical choice than starter plants. The exception is if you don’t have a spot indoors that offers enough light for your seedlings. In this case, the purchase of grow lights can tip the balance and make starter plants a less expensive option for you.

  • Some Varieties Don’t Transplant Well: For some of the plants in the garden, transplanting just doesn’t work. Some varieties have delicate roots that are best not disturbed, while other plants just grow so quickly that there’s no real chance to start them indoors. Here’s a list of plants that do best when direct seeded: baby salad greens, beans, corn, greens that grow quickly (like arugula and spinach), microgreens, nasturtiums, peas, poppies, and root vegetables.
  • The Miracle of Life: A lot of gardeners get so much joy from the process of growing plants from seeds that they couldn’t imagine doing things any other way. While starter plants offer lots of convenience, they can’t compare to the experience of watching a tiny seed come to life underground and grow into a full-sized blooming plant. 
starter plants in pots

Benefits of Using Starter Plants

  • Convenience and Simplicity: Raising plants from seeds requires quite an investment of time and energy as you baby the seeds through their germination and sprouting. With starter plants, you simply tuck the plant into the spot you’ve chosen for it, provide it with some water, and you’re done.
  • Fewer Timing Restrictions: When you plant seeds, you have to do your research about the plant variety and make sure that you’re planting at the correct time for gardeners in your USDA Hardiness Zone. You have much more freedom with starter plants, which mature as the season progresses and are ready for purchase throughout their growing period. Nurseries online tend to hold off on delivering out-of-season plants (like spring vegetables, for example) until it’s time to plant them in your area. Brick and mortar stores will tailor their selection to offerings that make sense for gardeners in your area throughout the year. 

If you just purchase seeds without doing some research into timing and hope to plant them all at once, you’ll be disappointed. We recommend, if you plan to grow plants from seeds, that you spend some time planning with a calendar. Take into account when each plant variety will need to be sown, when flowers will be in bloom, and when edible plants will be ready for harvest.

  • Higher Performance: While the time from sprouting to transplant can be a lot of fun to witness, it’s a dangerous time for plants, and gardeners tend to lose some of the seeds they plant to illness, insects, and other factors. Starter plants have been cared for by professionals, and they’ve already been through this risky stage in a plant’s life. The starter plants available at nurseries near you have also been especially selected for gardeners in your region, so you have a better chance for success with starter plants from the outset. Just follow the advice in this article on how to choose healthy plants at the nursery or garden center.

  • No waiting period: Starter plants are ready to go into your garden and start beautifying your home from the day you purchase them, with one exception. If you make a pre-order for an out-of-season plant, the seller will wait to send your purchase until it’s time for gardeners in your zone to put transplants into the outdoor garden. Unless you plan very carefully, you’ll usually need to wait to plant seeds you’ve purchased as well. Starter plants offer more variety and availability year-round.

As you can see, there’s no right answer for everyone, and there’s no right answer all of the time. Starter plants are better when it comes to performance, simplicity, and freedom from a waiting period or timing restrictions.

Seeds work better for gardeners who are seeking a diverse selection, want to grow varieties that don’t transplant well, those on a budget, and those who just want to enjoy witnessing the miracle of life. After learning more about each option, you’re ready to choose which one is right for you regardless of the situation.

Learn More About Seeds vs. Starter Plants

seedlings and nursery plants with text overlay seeds versus starter plants which should you choose


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