Seed vs Seedling: Which is Best?

A debate that has sparked many heated conversations between gardeners centres around the best way to start growing your plants. Or, more specifically: seed vs. seedling. Which will produce the most successful results? How much longer does it take to grow from seed? And does choosing a certain option limit the choice of what you can plant? Today we are going to dig in and answer these questions, giving you everything you’ll need to make a decision before starting your own fruit and veggie garden.

Seed or seedling, which is best suited to your needs?

Seed vs. seedling- Which is better?

While there are benefits and drawbacks to both, what does it actually mean to grow from seeds or seedlings?  Well put simply, seedlings are young plants that you can buy that have already had some time to grow. They have been sown from plant seeds and are ready to be transplanted directly in the garden once purchased. However, buying seeds – as we’re sure you are already aware – means that you’ll have to create your own young seedlings by planting from seed. Then you can transplant well or you even seed right in the garden, cutting out the middle man.

Whether you start from seed or buy, there are pros and cons to both methods. Even master gardeners argue over which method is best for what plant. It really comes down to what you want to plant, how much time and money you have and your own personal preference. 

How to choose between seeds and transplants

To make your decision easier, we’ve broken down the things you will need to consider into five handy sections. Evaluate each carefully and before you know it you’ll know exactly whether you should go out to buy some seed packets or start your garden as seedlings.

Seeds take more time than seedlings, but allow gardeners more control

Time

Seedlings hold the promise of quicker results, allowing you to get a head start on growing plants. If you miss the start of the growing season, this is a good way to help catch up. They’re also great if you live a busy life and don’t have much time to dedicate to your vegetable plants. They are quick growing, reaching maturity much faster which allows you to enjoy a delicious harvest much sooner. Plus, if you’re just starting on your gardening journey, seedlings are great to grow your confidence as they’re more convenient and lower-risk than starting your own seeds from scratch. Germinating seeds is a delicate and time-consuming process that you can avoid completely by opting for seedlings.

The time to grow from seed is much longer in comparison. However, this doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Opting for vegetable seeds is great for those that have the time to spare. It allows you to be involved at every stage of the process, making the moment your plant first sprouts even more magical. Plus, you’ll need to start your seeds much earlier than if you were using seedlings, so you will get a jump on your to-dos, being more prepared and ending up with a long growing season in comparison. This can be either a positive or negative thing depending on your personal circumstances.

Plant variety

There are certain fruit and vegetables that can grow really well in your garden from seeds. Whereas the best way to grow some plants (especially for beginners) is by opting for seedlings. To make things simple, check out our lists below to get an idea of what process is best for different plants.

Best fruit & vegetables to grow from seeds…

  • Cucumbers: With a short growing season, you can start cucumbers in a greenhouse.
  • Spinach: Not good for transplanting, it’s best to start seeding spinach in your allotment in early spring. 
  • Lettuce: Sowing seeds directly into your garden is a good idea for this cool-season crop.
  • Herbs: Great for starting seeds indoors, basil and other herbs can sit by sunny windows.
  • Peas: Plant the seeds about 4-6 weeks before the last frost date or as soon as the ground has thawed.

Best fruit & vegetables to grow from seedlings…

  • Strawberries: Difficult to grow from seeds, strawberry seedlings are easy to find.
  • Raspberries: Perfect for a kitchen garden, you can buy a small raspberry plant that is ready to go.
  • Tomatoes: Growing conditions need to be just right to grow from seed, so save yourself the hassle.
  • Rhubarb: Takes a while to establish from seeds, save time by opting for a young rhubarb plant.
  • Apples: Apple trees grown from seeds can take 6-10 years to bear fruit, vs. 2-4 years compared to seedlings.

If there are any fruit and veggies that have not appeared on either of these lists, do a little research online (our knowledge hub is a good place to start) to understand the best and easiest method of growing those different types of plants you have in mind.

Certain fruit & veggies work best when grown from seedlings

Price

Having a little more in your budget to play with allows you to choose options and buy plants that are much more convenient. So, if you want to get your fruit and veggie garden up and running quickly and are willing to cover the extra expense, we recommend purchasing seedlings. Although not drastically expensive (at least depending on the type of plant), seedlings are more expensive in comparison to the price of a packet of seeds, which can cost as little as £1.

Easy and cheap to pick up at your local garden centre or on our website, seeds offer a different kind of gardening experience. While certainly not the most convenient option, they are great for gardeners who want to grow with more control, watching their plant from seed to harvest rather than skipping the initial steps. And while seeds are generally cheaper, it’s worth bearing in mind that some plants do not suit our UK climate and may need assistance in the form of a greenhouse or incubator. This equipment can be costly. Therefore, it’s worth considering if buying a seedling may work out cheaper in the long run as you won’t have to fork out for any extra equipment. 

Plus, for gardeners who are just beginning to cultivate their green thumbs seeds may not be practical. Their plant may not grow successfully from seeds so it may work out cheaper and less stressful to invest in a starting plant rather than a packet of seeds.

Control and environment

In the great debate about seeds and seedlings, control and the environment also come into consideration. As previously mentioned, some gardeners like to maintain control of their plants at each stage of the process. This includes starting these plants completely from scratch and watching the seeds germinate and grow. Seeds are also great for gardeners who want to customise their space and experiment with growing vegetables of different varieties. Seeds will allow you to propagate plants beyond what is widely available and gardeners can take cuttings from the plants they grow and use them to expand their garden. They can also save seeds to preserve certain varieties of crops that may become heirlooms to grow in future seasons.

Your environment will also play a crucial role in deciding what to plant. Is your climate unpredictable, with a lot of cold spells? If so, seedlings may stand a better chance of succeeding in these conditions, as they are already established. Similarly, the weather will come into play. Plants, such as tomatoes thrive in the sun, so are easier to grow with seeds in sunnier climates. Therefore, in the UK you may find it best to start a tomato plant using a seedling, as you may need equipment (like a greenhouse) to successfully grow it from seeds.

Accessibility

All of the previous points are of course important, but for certain varieties of fruit and veg, you may find yourself limited by what is available. For instance, that rare species of strawberry you want to plant may only be available as a packet of seeds and you’ll have to figure out how to make it work according to your environment and the equipment you have on hand. Similarly, pear trees may only be easily found as seedlings, as that’s often how gardeners like to plant them. So, it’s worth doing a little research beforehand to get a handle on what to expect.

There are many seed companies that supply a variety of shops and online retailers, making them usually the most accessible option. For seedlings that have been grown in a nursery, you’ll likely have to travel to a local garden centre or visit an online shop like ours to purchase. They take up more space and so are not as easy for non-gardening retailers to stock.

Seeds are much easier to purchase and can be found in many shops

Tips for using seeds

If you have decided that seeds are the way to go, here are a few top tips to keep in mind.

  • Carefully read the instructions on the seed packet as it will include important information on spacing, watering and planting depth. These factors vary depending on the variety, so it’s important to study the instructions before getting started. This may seem obvious, but a lot of over-eager gardeners forget to do this.
  • Certain seeds should be started indoors, for instance, tomatoes and broccoli. Starting them indoors will allow you to ensure that they receive the correct amount of moisture, light and warmth to germinate successfully. Once you have given the seeds a little extra love, you can then transplant them out into your garden to continue their growth.
  • Don’t forget to harden off your seedlings before transplanting them outside. If you have germinated your seeds indoors, it’s best to allow around a week to get your young plants acclimating to the outdoor conditions. You can do this by leaving them outside for a few hours at a time to get them used to the temperature fluctuations and sunlight. This process will give your plant a better chance of success once fully transplanted.
  • Make sure to keep a record of what you are sowing. You can do this by adding labels to your pots/allotment and keeping track of when you’ve planted your seeds in a journal. For more information on how to create a garden journal.

Tips for using seedlings

If you think that young plants are best for your needs, consider these top tips.

  • Before you get to planting, check that your garden soil is in good condition and remove any obstructions. Loosen the soil with a gardening fork, pull weeds and add some compost to help improve drainage.
  • Allow for proper spacing when planting to improve airflow. The needs of each individual plant are different, so it’s worth doing some quick research to check on how much space your plant will need. Failure to space your seedlings properly will result in your plants competing for nutrients and it will increase the risk of diseases spreading and infecting your entire crop. 
  • Be gentle with your seedlings when transplanting. They are delicate, so avoid damaging them by holding by their leaves or the root ball to keep the stem safe. Failure to do this may result in your seedlings failing to adapt properly to their new environment.
  • Watering your seedlings properly is crucial at this stage. Keep the soil consistently moist after transplanting but be careful not to waterlog the area and damage your plant. Soil that is too dry will pull moisture from your plants and damage them. Do a little research on the best watering methods for your plant to ensure you get this right.
Ready to plant your own seeds or seedlings?

We hope this post has helped you understand the difference between seeds and seedlings. Were you able to identify what will work best for your garden? If you’re ready to start getting planting, check out our incredible range of seeds and seedlings online now. You may also find our previous post on what plants work best in UK gardens useful too. If you have any questions, reach out to us on our socials (@gardeningexpress), we would love to hear from you!

Check out our knowledge hub for more guides on how to create the perfect fruit and vegetable garden. We’ll be covering everything from how to find the best seeds for your garden to companion planting.

Updated on September 27, 2023

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