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How to Know When to Buy Transplants and When to Buy Seeds

Have you ever debated between spending money on a transplant from a local nursery and purchasing seed packets to start your plants on your own?

Do you currently buy transplants, also called starts, from a local nursery, but want to take your gardening to the next level or save some extra money?

There are certain plants that are totally worth spending money on to get them in a mature stage at your local nursery. Other plants are better to buy as seeds and grow yourself. So, how do you know which is best?

Cabbage Transplants

When to Purchase Transplants, or Starts

When my husband and I first starting gardening we bought all of our plants as transplants from the local nursery. Most of the time this was because we hadn’t planned in advance, and if we wanted to grow that particular plant, we needed one that already had a head start on the current growing season. Sound familiar?

If you are in a similar situation, I would recommend buying transplants, so you can still have a growing season. You will learn and have a harvest to enjoy, and you can still plan ahead for the following growing season.

So why else would you want to buy a transplant? What if you have a head start on the season and have time to grow everything on your list from seed? Are there still plants worth buying as transplants?

Strawberry Transplants

Yes.  There are certain plants that will thrive in the right conditions and you won’t need to plant more than one of them. These plants are perennials, meaning they will continue to grow after one season. Annuals, on the other hand, complete their entire life cycle in one season, meaning they will not grow back the next year or after the first freeze.

Perennials that you might want to purchase at your local garden store include fruit trees. These typically don’t produce fruit their first year, so buying more mature plants will allow you to start benefiting from harvests sooner. For example, most blueberry plants you see at the store are around three years old because that’s when the plants start to produce fruit. We bought our blueberry, blackberry and raspberry plants from our local garden store when they went on sale.

Blueberries Ripening on Bush

Perennial herbs, such as oregano, thyme, rosemary, chives, lemon balm, mint and sage are all great plants to buy at your local garden store. They will stretch out and expand in the right conditions in your garden, providing you with an abundance of flavor-packed leaves to season each and every dish.

The oregano below is a perfect example of this scenario. I purchased two 4″ transplants at our local garden store about two years ago. They have spread so wide that you can no longer tell the two apart. On average, oregano will spread about 18 inches wide. Ours have spread that amount or wider, and they have definitely supplied us with oregano for countless meals. When the plants started to go to seed for the first time this summer, I just cut the leaves back to the soil level and they are thriving once again. It was totally worth the extra money to purchase oregano as a transplant! Besides, we never would have used all the seeds from a seed packet in this case.

Oregano Multiplying After a Few Seasons

There are exceptions to buying all of your perennial herbs as starts, of course. If you’re already comfortable with starting plants from seed, or if you have growing trays and grow lights to start your seeds inside, buying the seed packets of these herbs might still be a good choice for you. This is especially a good choice if you want to grow multiple plants to give away as gifts. Perennial herbs are fairly easy to grow and are very resilient, meaning they are great gifts to give regardless of one’s gardening knowledge. So if you are planning to plant several of them, buying seeds might be a better option for you.

Wall of Seed Packets to Purchase

When to Buy Seed Packets

When are the other times should you purchase seeds instead of transplants?

If you want to save time and gain some learning experience, you are ready to start several plants on your own from seed.

Once I set my goal to grow the majority of our produce in our backyard, I started experimenting more with starting plants from seed. Something about it felt more authentic. I liked getting to take full responsibility, knowing that I grew the plant from seed to harvest. It made me feel like a “real” gardener. I guess, selfishly, I wanted the credit. I also wanted to save money.

If you know you will be gardening for a few seasons, I would recommend starting all of your annuals from seed. This includes peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplant, melons, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, okra, basil, onions, peas beans, radish and so on.

Why do I recommend starting so many vegetables from seeds?

  • It is definitely more affordable. One transplant at the garden store can cost anywhere from $1.99 to $10.99 and up. One packet of seeds, however, might cost $1.75 and provide you with enough seeds to feed your family for multiple seasons. And if you save your seeds, it might only cost you $1.75 to have a life supply of that variety. If you have a tight budget, this makes it a no-brainer.
  • It allows you to grow more plants, so you can experiment with growing them in different parts of your yard and under different conditions. Additionally, if one plant doesn’t survive, you don’t have to pay for another. You can simply try again by sprinkling another seed in the ground.
  • You will get to see the entire life cycle of the plant from the moment it peeks out above the soil until you harvest it. This is especially fun for new gardeners and kids who are watching and learning alongside you!
  • It gives you the opportunity to share some of your seeds with friends in exchange for other seeds they have that you don’t.
  • If you buy open-pollinated seeds, you will be able to save the seeds of the most successful plants and never buy seeds of that variety again! Only open-pollinated, not hybrid, seeds will produce the same crop the following year. Don’t worry, the seed packet should have this information for you.

Seed Packets

One thing to keep in mind when starting from seed is where to start your seeds. If you have an indoor system to start seeds inside, that is wonderful, but remember that not all plants enjoy being transplanted. Any root vegetable (those that grow underground like carrots, radishes and beets) or vegetables with delicate root systems (spinach, beans, peas) will prefer to have their seeds started in the spot where they will stay for their entire life cycle. Other plants, like most Brassica (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage) and Nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant) thrive when they get a head start growing indoors.

Conclusion

Transplants are great to buy if you want a head start on the gardening season, a head start with fruit trees or want to grow perennials in your garden. Most annuals are best bought as seeds.

I hope this helps you plan your gardening budget and determine which plants are worth purchasing as transplants from a local garden store and which plants are best purchased as seed packets.

Check out other posts I have written about seeds:

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