Some years it can be difficult to tell when spring really starts. Sometimes it begins in February…sometimes it’s in April. Usually there’s no question about when summer arrives: It’s just hot. But the bigger question for home gardeners is when should you start planning your garden…and what should you plant: seed or seedlings?

Vegetable garden

Whether you go with seeds or seedlings, plan early in the season so your vegetable garden is producing and flourishing by the time midsummer arrives.

Photo Credit: Gerald Burke

Zinnias

Colorful started plants – like these Magellan zinnias – bring immediate color and impact to the home garden.

Photo Credit: Gerald Burke

Red vinca

Vinca (or periwinkle) blooms well in containers. The plant is easy to grow from seed if you start early.

Photo Credit: Goldsmith Seeds

Petunias

Your local garden center has plenty “instant beauty” to offer your planting beds.

Photo Credit: Gerald Burke

The answer depends on lots of things: How much time do you have to plant? Is it too late or too early to start a particular flower or vegetable from seed? Can you find what you want in the nursery as a seedling (or “started plant”)? How successful have you been in the past at starting plants from seed? These are all reasonable questions – and they might even have more than one answer.

First and foremost, if you’re a relatively experienced and proficient gardener and know your area well, then nine times out of 10 you should go with seed. You likely already know that you’ll find dozens more varieties of vegetables and flowers available from seed than you’ll ever find as started plants (both on the seed rack and in catalogs). Wholesale bedding-plant growers tend to stick with the tried-and-true, well-known, easy-to-grow varieties. Sometimes they’re even influenced about what to grow by what tags they have left over, what seed they have on hand, what grows well for them, and many other considerations that have nothing to do with what’s right, wrong or good for the home gardener.

On the plus side, if you go with started plants you’ll know you’re likely going to be successful with your plantings, given that they’ve already sprouted and started growing, and you’ll have instant gratification once you plant them in your garden. And that’s not bad. Every gardener wants to have things look good, as well as have instant color and nearly instant produce-bearing plants

But the enterprising and adventurous home gardener also wants to try some new flowers, that new squash, a seedless tomato or that award-winning rudbeckia or petunia – and he or she knows it won’t always be available as a started plant. So, what to do?

Do both.

Many flowers and vegetables grow so easily from seed, there’s actually no reason not to try the seed route. Zinnias, marigolds, melampodium, alyssum, calendulas, gaillardias, cosmos, osteospermum, portulaca and sunflower are all so easy to start from seed, you really can’t miss. And if you want good flowers for cutting (like tall zinnias, tall marigolds or tall sunflowers), you won’t often find them as started plants. They won’t bloom profusely in the little six packs (and growers, nursery professionals and home supply stores know impulse is what sells – not green plants that aren’t blooming – so they typically shy away from them).

In vegetables, the list of what’s best planted from seed is long. Big seeds are all easy. Beans, sweet corn and peas, as well as radish, carrot, squash, beets, cabbage, all the vine seeds, onion, leaf lettuce and Swiss chard are sure-thing veggies to start from seed. You just need to start early enough so that these plants produce fresh produce for the table as early as possible.

Tomato, pepper, eggplant, asparagus, cauliflower, celery and rhubarb are probably on the list of vegetables you want to take on the started-plant route. But even here, some of the newest (or unusual) varieties may not be available as started plants, so seed might be your only optio

So for most gardeners, the question of whether you should grow from seed or started plants needs some thought. Think about your season (which varies around the country), as well as how much time and effort you want to spend on your garden. Then choose the growing route that’s best for you. But whatever answer you come up with, plant – and enjoy!