Should I Direct Sow or Transplant?

I started nearly all of my seeds indoors this year rather than direct sowing them into the garden space. The one exception was lettuce. I chose to do it this way primarily because I could better control the conditions inside, so I thought I’d have been success than if I tried to direct sow in the ground.

But I read seed packets, and many of them recommend direct sowing, rather than transplanting. Do I really need to be direct sowing?

Mother Earth News has a short article on the pros and cons of direct sowing vs transplanting. In some ways transplanting takes more work and requires more resources – you need pots, potting soil, grow lights or a greenhouse, etc. Transplanted plants may also have less robust root systems making them more drought sensitive later in the summer. They also claim that transplant shock can delay harvests, but if you’re already ahead because you were able to start the seeds indoors much earlier than you would have been able to direct sow seeds, I think this might come out even in the end.

Transplanted squash

I think the most persuasive arguments for whether you should direct sow or transplant are 1) Transplant when possible because you have more control over the early growth of the plants, you can start the seeds and 2) direct sow only plants that cannot tolerate being transplanted.

Transplanted beans

Many sources say that you should never transplant root crops (e.g. carrots and parsnips) because transplanting can damage the tap root which is the crop that you’re trying to grow. I’ve never tried transplanting carrots or parsnips, so I can’t comment on that argument.

More transplanted squash (zucchini?)

People also say you should transplant melons, cucumbers, and squash or beans and peas. The reasoning behind these later two groups of crops seems a bit hand-wave-y to me. Apparently, they are more susceptible to transplant shock….something about how their roots grow….but I’ve transplanted squash and beans this year into the Portland garden and they seem to be doing just fine. When I tried direct sowing beans, peas, and squash earlier this year in Palo Alto, the seeds were dug up by squirrels.

Bean seed unearthed and left to dry out on the surface by squirrels

Maybe as I get more experience gardening, I’ll figure out the best strategies for direct sowing so as to minimize the work I have to do to start seedlings in the spring, but that’s a problem for future Marie to worry about.

Leave a Reply