7 Ways to Decide Whether You Need to Direct Sow or Transplant

Direct Sow or Transplant
Hey there! Some links on this page are affiliate links which means that, if you choose to make a purchase, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I greatly appreciate your support!

Last Updated on 6 months by Michelle

When it comes to gardening, there are a lot of decisions to make, and one of the most important decisions is whether to direct sow or transplant. 

This decision can be based on a variety of factors, including garden pest pressure, weed pressure, and cost.

This blog post will explore the pros and cons of both direct seeding and transplanting plants.

You’ll learn the 7 points to consider to decide whether you need to plant transplants or whether you can just direct sew seeds into your garden.

Why Grow a Garden in the First Place?

There are lots of great reasons to grow a garden. I would grow a garden for these reasons alone, but add them all together and for me, growing a garden is a simple choice.

Gardening is Great Exercise

Gardening is work. It’s physical work with a goal of growing plants. When you garden, you lift, haul, drag, bend over, pull, push, carry, dig, and whatever else you have to do. It is AMAZING exercise.

Gardening Can Save A lot of Money

Gardening with an eye toward saving money will save a TON of money.

Of course, there are endless jokes about how expensive gardening is, and it certainly CAN be expensive. But if gardening couldn’t be cost-effective, our ancestors wouldn’t have done it.

direct sow or transplant


To Maximize Garden Profits, Know when to Transplant or Direct Sow

To maximize your harvests, you need to know when to grow your food from transplants and when to direct sow seeds into the ground.

Each planting method has very real and distinct benefits, and mastering this will absolutely make your garden a financial asset to you and your family.

Direct Sowing

Direct sowing is a planting method where you plant seeds right into the ground instead of starting them in pots or trays and then transplanting them later.

Benefits of Direct Sowing

One of the main benefits of direct sowing is that it can save you time and money.

Starting seeds in pots or trays requires you to purchase or make additional materials, and it also takes up more space since you need somewhere to keep the pots or trays until the plants are ready to be transplanted.

transplanting seedlings examples


Artichoke seedling transplants in my home grow room

Direct sowing also eliminates the need for transplanting, which can be a delicate process that can sometimes damage roots and lead to transplant shock.

Direct sowing can be a great way to get a head start on the growing season, and it can be especially useful if you’re short on time or space.

Direct Sowing also doesn’t require that you harden off any of your plants.

Hardening off is the week-long process where you gradually expose your seedlings to the outdoors so they aren’t quite as fragile once they are planted in your garden.

Example 1: Save Money Direct Sowing Beans

For a family of 4, you’ll need anywhere from 2-8 plants per person, depending on how many beans your family eats.

Big box retailers sell pole bean plants for around $15 apiece. If you buy the plants you’ll spend $30-$120 for your beans.

On the other hand, you can buy a pack of Kentucky Wonder heirloom pole bean seeds for $2.50-$4.00.

That single pack of seeds will grow the 40 pole bean plants you’d need to feed a family of 4 bean lovers at a cost of $4.

$120 vs $4 is pretty convincing math.

It makes financial sense to grow beans from seed, and the seeds themselves are well-suited to direct sow.

The beans are large, so they are easy to plant to the proper depth. They germinate quickly, so there is no danger of weeds overtaking them before they can grow.

I paid $3 for this package of 75 Dragon Tongue Bush beans, and it will grow all the beans we need for a family of 4 from May until November.

best seeds to direct sow


Dragon Tongue Bush Beans I’ll Direct Sow this Spring

Example 2: Save Money Direct Sowing Cucumbers

The math on cucumbers is similar. To feed a family of 4 cucumber-lovers, you’ll need around 2-4 plants per person for a total of 8-16 plants.

Lowe’s sells single cucumber plants in 2.5 gallon pots for $15.98 per plant. To have enough for your family, you’ll need to spend around $128- $255!

Compare this to direct sowing a $4 pack of cucumber seeds, and again, the argument for direct sowing is very convincing.

These Beit Alpha cucumbers are delicious as picklers and slicers. There were 70 seeds in this $2.75 pack when I used it to plant my garden, and there are still 60 seeds left. I’ll use it to plant again this year. 

You just can’t beat those numbers. There is no reason to waste your money on bean or cucumber transplants. Direct sow them and save that hard-earned money for other things.

direct planting examples


This is a direct planting example of Beit Alpha cucumbers I’ll plant this year.

Potential Drawbacks to Direct Sowing

There are also some potential drawbacks to direct sowing that you should be aware of.

One of the biggest dangers of direct sowing is that it can be difficult to control the environment in which the seeds are planted.

If the ground is too cold or too wet, the seeds may not germinate properly due to incorrect soil temperature.

Additionally, if the seeds are not planted at the correct depth, they may not have enough space to grow and develop properly.

Finally, if you live in an area with a lot of pests, direct sowing can make it easier for garden pests to destroy your plants since they will not be protected by pots or trays.

Tips for Success with Direct Sowing

First, make sure to plant the seeds at the correct depth and spacing. This will vary depending on the type of seed you’re planting, so be sure to consult a gardening guide or ask a local expert for advice.

If you plant the seeds too deeply, they may never germinate. Or if they do, they could be very weak because of how much they had to struggle to break the soil.

Second, make sure to water the seeds regularly, especially during the first few weeks after planting.

This is especially important during hot weather, when the seeds need all the help they can get to germinate and grow.

Seeds that don’t get enough water in the early stages may not germinate at all, or they may die before the plant roots can get established. Water gently in the beginning so you don’t wash the seeds away.

Third, make sure you wait until your last frost date passes before you begin sowing your seeds. Peas can survive a light frost, but the rest of the crops are not frost-hardy.

Finally, don’t forget to thin out the seedlings once they start to develop.

Thinning out seedlings is important because it allows the remaining plants to grow larger and healthier. Thinning is simply the process of pulling out tiny seedlings to give room for the remaining seedlings to grow.

Rules of Thumb for Direct Sowing

A few vegetables tend to do better when direct-sown, such as lettuce, spinach, peas, and beans. Root crops like carrots and beets should always be direct sown.

These plants are generally fairly easy to grow and are not as delicate as some of the other vegetables out there.

If you’re thinking about direct sowing seeds in your garden, these are a good place to start!

Plants You Should Always Direct Sow

  • Carrots and other root crops
  • Beets
  • Radishes
  • Turnips

Plants That Are Best Direct Sown

  • Bush beans
  • Peas
  • Okra
  • Cucumbers
  • Squash
  • Melons

Plants You Should Never Direct Sow

  • Tomatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Peppers
  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus

There is something magical about grabbing a seed packet, heading out to your garden plot, digging into the soil surface, and planting as many seeds as you need to feed your family their favorite veggies. 

But direct sowing is not the only way to plant!

Direct Sowing Isn’t the Only Way

You may be wondering: If you don’t plant the seed directly into the ground, what else do you do?

The answer is transplanting. No, it’s not as complicated as it sounds.

transplanting vegetables examples


These Transplants Are All My Peppers for the 2022 Garden

Transplanting is simply when you take a plant that has been growing in another container and plant it out into its final growing location, usually your garden.

Benefits of Transplanting

There are many benefits to transplanting, we’ll cover the main ones below.

Seed Starting Containers Peppers

Very little to no weed pressure

By starting seeds indoors and then planting seedlings, there is very little to no weed pressure that they have to deal with. This is a VERY good thing.

Planting transplants that have been growing in seed starting containers for several weeks gives your plants a distinct advantage.

It means that your baby plants are big enough to fight off the weeds around them in the battle for food and water.

Plants grow in a protected environment while the out

Some seeds take a couple of weeks to germinate. You’ll have no idea where you put your individual seeds and the weeds will overcome them and your crops will die. Less struggling means a faster, bigger harvest for you.

With transplanting, plants grow in a protected environment while the outdoor conditions aren’t favorable, so you get a jump start on the season.

Less Pest Pressure

Some animals or other garden pests eat the seeds as soon as you plant them if you plant them directly in the garden. If that is your situation, it may be better to plant transplants.

Better Control Over Germination

Some seeds like tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers need to have warm soil to germinate.

You usually can’t warm the soil up appropriately in the ground outside, so buying or growing transplants is the best way for these plants to get started.

gardeners transplant


All the Peppers for the 2022 Garden All Toasty on Their Heat Mat

You may be thinking, well if transplanting is so great, why don’t we just plant seedlings for everything?

That’s because transplanting DOES have some disadvantages.

Potential Drawbacks to Transplanting

Transplanting does have some drawbacks. Not every plant likes to be transplanted.

Plants That Do Not Like to be Transplanted

Some plants have roots that do not like to be disturbed after they are planted. These plants include:

  • beans
  • peas
  • squash
  • watermelon
  • Sunflowers

These plants prefer to be direct sown right into the garden soil.

Transplanting Costs More

Transplanting requires you to either purchase your plants or invest in all the tools necessary to plant them yourself. (Seed starting container post here)

To grow transplants yourself you’ll need seed starting containers, seed starting grow medium, seeds, and a light source.

Buying your transplants is easier than starting them yourself, but going that route is more costly and most garden centers don’t have much variety when it comes to what you can grow.

Rules of Thumb for Transplants

I follow certain rules when deciding whether to direct sow or transplant and in the 15+ years I’ve grown a garden, these rules have never steered me wrong.

Plants You Should Never Transplant

  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Turnips
  • radishes

Plants You Should Transplant Only if You HAVE To

  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Leaf Lettuce
  • Summer Squash
  • Winter Squash
  • Watermelon

Plants You Should Always Transplant

  • Tomatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Peppers
  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Plants that have expensive seeds
  • Plants that you only have a few seeds for

What Time of Year is Best to Transplant?

Transplanting vegetables can be done at different times of the year. Some vegetables do better when transplanted in the spring, while others do better when transplanted in the fall.

Make sure to research which vegetables do well when transplanted and transplant them at the right time for your garden!

Transplanting is best done in the spring and fall because transplanted vegetables grow better when it’s not too cold or hot outside.

Transplanting in the spring gives young plants a chance to settle into their new home before summer sets in. Transplanting in the fall allows winter crops to grow roots and establish themselves before winter comes.

Best Conditions for Transplanting

There are a few conditions that should be present when you transplant vegetables:

  • The soil should be moist but not wet or soggy
  • The air temperature should be cool, between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit
  • There should be no chance of frost in the forecast

If all of these conditions are met, then transplanting your vegetables into the garden is a great way to give them a head start on the growing season. Transplanting also allows you to space out your plants so that they have room to grow.

When transplanting, it’s important to water your plant regularly and keep an eye on its leaves. If the leaves start to wilt, it means the plant isn’t getting enough water.

What Time of Day is Best to Transplant?

When transplanting your small plants into your garden, you’ll want to give them every advantage.

Seedlings are more tender than established plants, and they will go through transplant shock when you first transplant them.

Transplant your young plants in the morning before the hottest part of the day or after the sun goes down in the evening to reduce the amount of shock they go through.

Other Tips to Consider When Transplanting

Planting them to the correct depth is very important when you transplant seedlings.

You’ll plant them to the same soil level they were in the transplant container for almost all transplants.

This means that they should be planted as deep as they were in the container they were previously in.

Tomatoes are one main exception to this. Tomatoes like to be planted very deeply since any part of the stem that’s underground will grow roots. More stem under the soil means more roots for the plant, giving you a more vigorous and healthy plant.

When planting your seedlings, don’t forget to add a bit of fertilizer to the planting hole and mix it up with the soil. I use organic fertilizers because they aren’t as harsh as synthetic fertilizers.

7 Points to Consider When Deciding whether to Direct Sow or Transplant

  1. Is the plant a root vegetable? If yes, direct sow.
  2. Is the plant a legume (beans or peas)? If yes, direct sow.
  3. Does the plant take longer than 7 days to germinate? If yes, transplant.
  4. Do the seeds require 70 soil to germinate? If yes, transplant.
  5. Are the seeds expensive? If yes and they aren’t a root vegetable, transplant.
  6. Do the seeds require 70 soil to germinate? If yes, transplant.
  7. Do you only have a few seeds? If yes and they aren’t a root vegetable, transplant. If you only have a few and they are root vegetables, direct sow.

Putting It All Together

Direct sowing your seeds is a great way to save money, and it can be just as successful as transplanting seedlings. However, there are some plants that do better when transplanted.

Knowing exactly how to plant all the crops in your garden will maximize your garden production, providing you with higher yields and more fun!

Grab this handy cheatsheet that details exactly which vegetables do well when transplanted or planted directly before you start planting this season! You’ll have all the important information we talked about here so you can carry it out to the garden with you while you plant!

What are your thoughts on direct sowing versus transplanting?

Let me know in the comments below!  Happy Gardening!



Table of Contents

On Key

Related Posts