An article by Travis Key from Lazy Dog Farm
As spring approaches, gardeners around the country will be purchasing seeds and getting excited to plant their gardens. One of the questions we frequently get this time of year is what vegetables do best when planted from transplants, and which ones do best when directly sewn into the garden. In this blog we’ll go through many of the common backyard garden vegetables and tell you which ones should be transplanted, which ones should be direct-seeded, and which ones can go either way.
Some vegetable seeds take a long time to germinate, which can allow weeds to out-compete the seedlings in the early stages of the growth cycle. Other vegetables have seeds that germinate fast and don’t need the head start that transplanting provides. Some vegetable seeds have a specific temperature range for ideal germination, while others may germinate over a 20°-30°F temperature range. These are just a few of the considerations we use when determining whether to transplant or direct-seed a particular vegetable.
Vegetables You Should Transplant
These vegetables should always be grown as transplants in your seed starting room or greenhouse, and then transplanted into your garden when the transplants have developed a solid root ball. You’ll commonly find all of these at a nursery or in the plant section at a big box store. But if you have your own seed starting setup, you can easily grow your own plants!
• Brussels Sprouts
Vegetables You Should Direct-Seed in the Garden
These vegetables have seeds that usually germinate fast and start growing quickly. As a result, transplanting would be an unnecessary step for these vegetables. Just make sure you have a nice seed bed in your backyard garden for direct seeding these vegetables. If your backyard garden soil is hard or compacted, consider mixing a heavy application of compost into the soil or adding it on top of the soil. This will ensure the best seed to soil contact for improved germination rates.
• Summer Squash
Vegetables You Can Do Either
These vegetables can be transplanted or direct seeded, depending on your preference or the specific variety of each that you may be wanting to grow. Below we’ll describe why you might want to transplant or direct-seed each of these.
We’ve grown many beets from transplants and we’ve also direct-seeded beets many times. Beets have multi-germ seeds, which means that each seed will produce 2-3 plants. As a result, beets often need thinning after planting to get properly spaced plants. Thinning after direct seeding can be back breaking, depending on how many you’ve planted. But thinning in seed trays is much easier. If you’re going to transplant beets, put one seed per cell in your seed starting tray and thin them to one plant per cell once they emerge. Once the plants develop a solid root ball, transplant them into your garden with a 3-4” spacing between plants. This will produce consistently sized beets because all the plants are equally spaced. If you don’t care about consistent sizing, just direct seed them and they’ll push each other out the way.
Last year we tried transplanting cucumbers for the first time, and it worked well. The commercial farmers around here always transplant their cucumbers, so we wanted to give it a try. It gave us a slight timing advantage versus direct seeding. This is helpful if you live in a warm climate where temperatures warm quickly in spring. On the contrary, cucumber seeds usually germinate fast and certainly don’t need to be transplanted. With adequate water and warm soil, cucumber seeds usually will pop in 3-4 days after planting. If the timing advantage is not that important to you, just stick them in the ground and they’ll do just fine.
Many gardeners around here plant only collards for their fall garden. They’ll cultivate a spot in their backyard and simply throw some collard seeds onto that spot. When they harvest the collards, they’ll cut the entire plant and enjoy a delicious meal. We prefer to use a “cut-and-come-again” harvest technique with our collards. We harvest the bottom leaves and leave the top leaves so the plant can continue to grow. In this case, you’ll want wider plant spacing than you get from just throwing seeds. As a result, transplanting is a better option if you’re planning for a longer growth cycle with your collard plants.
Kale can be planted on a 1’ spacing for repeated harvests, much like we do collards. In this situation, you harvest the bottom leaves and leave a few leaves at the top so the plant can keep growing. If this is your goal, you’ll want to use transplants. Other gardeners will plant kale seeds very densely on a 2-3’ wide bed with the goal of harvesting smaller greens. We see this done frequently with Red Russian kale, which is a delicious, tender variety. In this situation, direct seeding works great.
If you’re growing head lettuce and plan to do a single cut harvest, you’ll want to transplant it. This will save you from thinning and allow you to have a precise plant spacing for the larger heads that you expect to harvest. Lettuce can also be a little finicky with germination temperatures, so starting indoors ensures better germination. If you’re wanting a thick bed of “cut-and-come-again” lettuce, there’s no need to transplant. Just scatter the seeds across the intended lettuce bed and press the seeds into the soil. Lettuce seeds like sunlight to germinate, so there’s no need to cover the seeds when planting them this way.
Okra seeds germinate fast in warm soils. But sometimes we want to plant okra before the soils warm significantly in spring. In this case, we’ll grow okra transplants in our greenhouse and put the plants into the soil as soon as the risk of frost has passed in spring. This allows us to get a jump start on the okra production. It’s also a great idea if you live in a colder climate with a shorter summer. When planting okra in late spring or the middle of summer, we’ll skip the transplanting step and direct-seed them into the garden. They’ll germinate fast and outpace any weed growth. If your soil is 80°F or warmer, plant them directly in the garden.
This one will depend on whether you’re growing bulbing onions or bunching onions. If growing large bulbing onions is your goal, you’ll want to transplant. Onion seeds usually take 6-10 days to germinate and will grow slow initially. As a result, weeds will often outpace the bulbing onion seedlings when direct seeded. Bunching onions, however, do great when direct seeded. These seeds are typically planted very thick in a band so that you can harvest an entire bunch with one pull. Because they’re planted so thick, they’ll stifle any weeds, and you’ll have a beautiful, thick patch of “spring onions.”
I prefer to transplant pumpkins, but they will usually germinate fine when directly sewn into the garden. If you’re limited on pumpkin seeds or are growing a pumpkin variety with expensive seeds, you might consider transplanting so that you can get a consistent, controlled germination. If you have plenty of seeds and don’t mind doing a little thinning, just stick them into the soil like you would summer squash or cucumbers. Pumpkin seeds usually germinate in 3-4 days in warmer soils and start growing fast once they do.
Your Space and Resources
Some of this info will depend on your seed starting space and resources. You may only have so much space for starting seeds, and that will determine what you decide to transplant versus direct seed. In that case, you may want to prioritize the “must-transplant” vegetables in your seed starting room or greenhouse. And if you don’t have a seed starting setup, hopefully this blog has helped you determine whether you should be buying plants or seeds for a particular vegetable.
Thousands of gardeners have been tuning in to The Lazy Dog Farm YouTube channel where Travis covers a variety topics ranging from how to successfully start seedlings to how to make a flavorful hotsauce that packs a punch. Accompanied by his wife Brooklyn and their two boys, the gardens on their 2 acre homestead in southwest Georgia are always filled with a wide variety of vegetables that are enjoyed fresh or preserved for later.