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Don Davis: The benefits and pitfalls of starting with plants

Don Davis: The benefits and pitfalls of starting with plants

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You can start your garden using plants instead of seeds. This approach has its benefits and disadvantages.

Planting potted seedlings or transplants from a store gives you an instant garden. There is no need to fuss with raising your own plants indoors under lights or wait for seeds to germinate.

Plants are preferred over seeds for starting annual flowers, such as wax begonia and petunia. Their seeds are very small and expensive — not the kind of thing you can plant directly in the ground outdoors and expect to succeed.

The best geranium seeds sell for nearly $1 each. Sowing them outdoors in your garden involves more risk of failure than starting with geranium plants.

Harvest time comes earlier in summer if you go with tomato transplants instead of tomato seeds sown directly in your garden soil. Likewise your marigolds, vincas and other annual flowers will bloom earlier when you set out plants.

Plants are the perfect choice for a new perennial garden you want to bloom this year. You also can grow perennials by sowing seeds directly outdoors, and most of them will begin flowering in their second year of life.

Store bought plants are not always the best thing for starting your garden. Your choice of varieties is quite limited compared to the thousands you could choose from if you sow seeds.

Most flowers, herbs and vegetables are quick and cheap to establish using seeds. Buying plants really is not necessary.

Vegetable plants with high levels of antioxidants will not be found in stores. It is only by planting seeds that you can grow a lycopene-rich tomato, such as Health Kick or a beta carotene-rich carrot like Ingot.

One risk in bringing home pepper plants from a store is introducing a devastating case of bacterial leaf spot. Downy mildew disease could start from a store’s infected cabbage plants and whiteflies could be hiding on a store’s tomato plants.

You must depend on someone else to grow your plants if you choose to avoid seeds. Then your only option is to buy whatever plants they decide to offer — not necessarily what you prefer.

Professional growers sometimes spray bedding and vegetable plants with plant growth regulators to control their height and lengthen their shelf life. Once planted in your garden, they can remain stunted.

Prices of garden transplants now are higher than ever, particularly at the big stores. Many of the new gardeners who started planting when the pandemic broke out last year are doing it again and stores have seized upon this opportunity.

Planting a row of kale is a costly endeavor, if you spring for potted kale plants retailing at $4.48 each instead of the 1,000 seeds of Black Magic kale available for $3.50. The same is true for the $4 potted strawberry plant vs. the 25 bare root strawberry plants you can get for $14.

Watch out for the potted carrot, spinach and beet plants. Most gardeners grow them from seeds.

Don Davis is a retired Virginia Cooperative Extension agent. He can be reached at

Don Davis is a retired Virginia Cooperative Extension agent. He can be reached at

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