Skip the expensive store-bought seedlings this year and start your own seeds instead! Here are 5 reasons to give it a try…
If you’re brand new to gardening, attempting to start your own seeds from scratch may seem a bit intimidating. While you can certainly buy seedlings at a local nursery until you get the hang of it, once you have a bit of gardening experience, starting your own seeds can be extremely fun and rewarding! Not only will you enjoy a wider variety of crops to choose from, but you can also save quite a bit of money – especially if you have a good-sized garden.
Most types of seeds (although there are some exceptions) will last for several years if properly stored, so if you don’t use them all, you can save the rest for planting next year. (I have had tomato, pepper, and melon seeds remain viable for up to 5 years.)
Here are a few good reasons why you may want to start your own seeds.
1.) More Control Over the Source/Quality of Your Plants
When buying seedlings, it is important to purchase from a reputable nursery. While all those clearance seedlings outside your local big box store every spring may look tempting, they are also more likely to be stressed and neglected, which can mean they may not grow as well for you and could be more prone to disease.
No matter where you buy your seedlings, bringing foreign plants into your garden always brings the risk of importing pests or diseases. One year, I purchased a few perfectly healthy-looking pepper seedlings at my favorite nursery, and they ended up all getting a terrible pepper blight later in the season which greatly diminished my crop. The pepper plants I started from seed that year and planted in a separate bed were perfectly fine, so it was definitely the purchased seedlings that were the issue. (The blight stuck around and reappeared the following year on a few plants, but thankfully disappeared after that.)
Starting your own seeds also makes it easier for you to grow organic seedlings from the start if you desire. While organic seedlings are often available in nurseries these days, they tend to cost quite a bit more. Organic seeds also cost more, but remember that you can usually get 30+ seeds per packet for approximately the same cost as ONE seedling plant from a nursery, so you’ll still save a bundle even if you’re buying organic seeds.
2.) Save Money
This brings me to the second good reason to start your own seeds: You’ll save quite a bit of money! Especially if you have a large garden, there’s just no comparison when it comes to buying seeds versus seedlings. As I mentioned above, a packet of seeds (which could last you for several growing seasons, depending on how many seeds you’re starting) usually costs approximately the same as one seedling from a reputable nursery.
The only time I buy seedlings anymore is if I’m growing just a few plants of a crop that is notoriously difficult to start from seed (such as celery), or if I honestly only plan to grow 1-2 plants of a specific crop and am not sure if I will grow it again in the future. This can be a good way to try out a new crop or variety.
Also, if you only have a tiny windowsill or container garden, you may also not want to purchase large packets of seeds that may take years to use. But many home and garden stores carry smaller packets of off-brand seeds at a lower cost, so even then it may prove more cost-effective to start your own seeds.
Note that you will have a few start-up costs. You’ll need to purchase some seed-starting mix (or make your own), and also some containers to start your seeds in. If you’re on a budget, you can always make your own containers out of newspaper or cardboard, or other recycled containers. However, even if you buy some cell-packs or other seed-starting containers, you can usually re-use them for many years to come.
3.) Better Selection
Purchasing seeds gives you a MUCH greater range of crops and crop varieties to choose from. While most large nurseries do carry a decent number of varieties, it’s nothing compared to what you can find in a seed catalog. You may find 10 different tomato varieties when purchasing seedlings, but a seed catalog may easily carry 2-3 times as many, including many heirloom and open-pollinated varieties that you won’t find in your local nursery.
If you plan to save your own seeds for planting next year, you’ll want to start with an heirloom or open-pollinated type, as hybrid varieties will not produce a reliable result from next year’s seeds. Shopping from a seed catalog makes it very easy to see which varieties are open-pollinated (OP) and which are hybrids (typically labeled F1). Seedlings at the store may not always be so clearly labeled. And once again, if you are looking for organic options, you’ll have a much greater variety of organic seeds to choose from.
4.) It’s More Sustainable
If you’re a sustainable gardener, starting your own seeds is for sure the best way to go! I say this because it allows you to control not only the health and quality of your seedlings, but also because you can become your own source of seeds, and what’s more sustainable than that?
Harvesting and saving your own seeds from year to year allows you to gradually select for traits that you want (larger, sweeter fruits, disease resistance, etc.), and it also allows you to adapt your plants to your particular climate and location over time.
The way it works is very simple: if you always save seeds from the largest, tastiest fruits harvested from the healthiest, most productive plants, over time, the offspring from these plants should become more and more healthy, productive, and tasty. Not to mention, if you save seeds every year, you’ll always have fresh, viable seeds to start for the next growing season.
Not only does this allow you to grow plants that are uniquely suited to your location, but for the varieties that you save, you’ll only have to buy the seeds once! I always do this with tomatoes – when I see a new variety I want to try (assuming that it’s open-pollinated), I buy just a small packet of seeds to start with, and then save new seeds from the best, healthiest plants every year, so I never have to buy them again. It works great with other fruiting plants as well, such as peppers, ground cherries (I haven’t bought new seeds in years), and okra.
5.) It’s Fun!
While there’s a lot to love about gardening, there’s nothing quite like planting your own seeds, watering them, and watching their tiny green heads start to pop up out of the soil!
It’s amazing to see how quickly your little babies will grow, and every spring as I watch mine, I’m reminded of the awesome miracle of life that’s contained inside each tiny seed – just waiting for the right conditions to spring to life and start growing. For me, that miracle is really what gardening’s all about. 🙂
Why not make the decision to start your own seeds this spring? You’ll find the rewards are great and many.
(New to seed starting? Check out our archives here for lots of tips to help you succeed!)