I am starting some of my plants from seed. A lot of them are trees and shrubs, which is a new world for me. Clockwise from top are Hazelnut, Echinacea augustifolia, Bayberry, Viburnum cassinoides, and in the center are persimmon. I have more, but they weren’t as photogenic.
I chose to grow some of my plants from seed out of sheer curiousity, and a desire to save money. Fall is an excellent time to start many seeds, as they can naturally get the cold treatment needed to break their dormancy, and sowing in spring will mimic their natural growing habit. My seeds are outside in pots getting their cold treatment (called stratification) right now.
Here are some reasons to grow from seed:
1. You want something that’s hard to find. I wanted stinging nettle. There is no way you will find that for sale at a nursery, because, well, it stings! Something uncommon like this may only be found in seed form. But if you want something like a Shasta daisy, just save yourself the time and buy a plant.
2. You want to save money. A pack of seeds averages $3. The perennial seeds I got were more, around $6. A potted plant at a nursery is several times the cost of a pack of seeds. If you are willing to spend the time and energy to grow from seed, you will save money. Keep in mind, though, that when all is said and done, your plants from seed could be more expensive than a potted plant if you factor in the time and energy you invested.
3. You want to experiment and are ok with some failure. I’m so curious about my seeds. I can’t wait to see how they germinate and grow, especially since I’ve never grown perennials (and certainly not shrubs) before. I have already accepted that many of my tiny plants will not make it, and I’m ok with that. For the ones that do, it will be worth it. Oh, and each plant from seed is its own genetically unique individual! How special is that??
4. You want to make sure your plant is organically grown. Many plants available for sale are grown with chemicals, for one reason or another. The cheaper the plant, the dirtier the growing practices probably were. Don’t be tempted by cheap plants at big box stores. Shop with local nurseries and ask how the plants were grown. They’ll be able to give you an answer. Spoiler alert: it’s extremely hard to find purely organic sources for perennials, so you may be disappointed. Native plants are more likely to be grown with fewer chemicals, since they’re used to our climate. But, if you grow your own plants from seed, you know exactly what went into them.
5. You can reduce transplant shock by growing in place. I have this dream of setting my newly germinated seeds in their spots in the ground as soon that little root tendril peeks out. If I plan my yard out entirely, maybe I can even place the seeds in the right spots without having to transplant. Most plant roots don’t like being disturbed, but most can handle a little disruption at transplant time. The reason most seeds are started in pots is that they may get lost in the ground.
5 reasons NOT to grow from seed:
1. You want a specific type of plant. Take fruit, for example. Apples, pears, plums, etc. are all selected for flavor. This means that if you plant an apple seed, you will most likely not get a delicious Macintosh. You’ll get some random fruit that probably won’t taste too good. Yes, some fruit varieties are born from chance seedlings. But do you have space to take that chance in your 60x20 foot suburban lot? I don’t, that’s why I’m buying grafted trees from specialty nurseries
1. Failure would discourage you and cause anxiety. The goal is to have a gardening experience that will bring joy and a sense of accomplishment. If babying pesky seeds only to have some of them die sounds like it would ruin your desire to garden, don’t do it! Go support your local nursery and buy potted plants!
3. You don’t have time to wait. Perennials started from seed usually take two years to flower. Trees and shrubs may take even longer to produce. Potted plants at nurseries are ready to flower and give the quickest results. A tray of plugs (tiny plants) could be an option if you’re looking to save money but get ready-grown material. Plugs will usually take a year to flower and can be mail ordered or ordered from a local nursery.
Where to get seeds
Sheffields—Trees, shrubs, weird stuff
Prairie Moon Nursery—native perennials (plugs too, I believe)
Sources for grafted fruit trees
Cricket Hill Gardens
Cummins Nursery (upstate NY)
Adams county Nursery (PA)
Trees of antiquity
Sources for herbaceous perennials and shrubs
Broken Arrow (trees, too)
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