Seed or Start

Planting a vegetable garden requires either a seed or a vegetable “start”, but which is better?

Some vegetables should always be sown as seed directly into the soil, others need a little more TLC to get going and require potting soil and extra heat, and a few are laid back characters who are happy either way.

Like many things, I believe gardening is a life-long learning process but I wanted to share my experience of the seed-or-start question.

First of all, I highly recommend growing at least one vegetable from seed in your garden.  There is nothing like the excitement and satisfaction of seeing the seedling pop through the soil!  Secondly, gardening is very climate dependent.  Charlottesville is in USDA planting zone 7a so that is where my experience lies, your zone/country may be very different!

If you are in the U.S you can check on your planting zone here.


Tomatoes seedlings are delicate and need heat to germinate (sprout from their seed) so it’s best to plant the seeds in flats inside the house or a greenhouse several weeks before the last frost in your area.

For most households buying a few seedlings at a farmers market or nursery would provide plenty of tomatoes.  Not around here.  This fruit is a favorite around this house and I hope to can sauce and salsa so we bought seeds.  We will have about two dozen tomato plants, that would have cost us at least $50 had we bought seedlings.  Instead, we bought about $5 worth of seeds and have been patiently watching grow.  In a few weeks I will transplant them into garden beds.  It’s hard to imagine that in 2 short months they will look something like this!


Greens (lettuce, collards, spinach, kale, arugula, beets) can be sown directly into the garden from seed or bought as starts and planted.

This is a total biased but I would ALWAYS recommend starting greens from seed.  They are easy!  And so cheap!  I’ve been eating several salads a week from the $1.99 worth of organic lettuce seeds that I started last fall.

I’ve also found that greens are finicky when transplanted and grow stronger and more prolifically when started from seed.


Summer Squash

Summer squash  can go either way but for most people buying a seedling or two will provide them with more than they need.  I LOVE summer squash and hope to make relish and pickles with it this summer so I started them from seed in small containers.




Most herbs aren’t that difficult to grow from seed but given that most people only need one or two plants and many herbs are perennial (come back year after year) I recommend buying starts.

The exception to this is basil.  If you want more than one or two basil plants it’s really easy and very affordable to buy seeds and either direct sow into the garden or start in pots and transplant.


Unless you have a great greenhouse (in which case I imagine you know a lot more about gardening than I do) or you live in some magical climate (maybe called California?) than I think it’s best to buy starts for peppers.   If you have great tips for starting them from seed, please share!

This is by no means comprehensive, more just a snapshot of what’s going on in my garden right now.  If you want more ‘lessons from a first time gardener’ check out this post and please share your gardening tips and experiences in the comments!