We see this question often, whether farmers benefit more from direct seed or transplant in effort, production, and yield. Let’s define each, discuss the pros and cons, and talk about which may work better for you.
What is a transplant?
Transplants are seeds grown indoors under controlled conditions to give you baby plants at the beginning of planting season.
Pros: Transplants give you a jump-start on the season and skip the early stage of vulnerability, where pest and weather pressures reign. And all the seedlings develop at the same time, making your crops uniform. Uniform baby plants allow even spacing between the crops, which can improve quality.
The quicker maturity shortens the season and allows farmers to present their fruit to market earlier. Also, if you want to grow in succession, you may want to start with transplants and then continue with direct seeding. Transplanting minimizes the risk during the first week of emergence.
Cons: Frankly, it costs more, but many farmers believe that it pays for itself with more predictable yield.
NOTE: Be sure to transition your transplants! Sending seedlings cultivated in nearly ideal conditions straight to your field will likely kill them (transplant shock).
What is direct seed?
Direct seed means sowing seeds in the field when planting season begins. Some plants don’t like to move around, preferring to stay where you planted them from seed to harvest. These usually have more delicate root systems or short germinations.
Pros: Direct seeding gives you more freedom of choice in what to plant. Some transplants may not work in a farmer’s crop rotation timetable. And some places take seeds even with a chance of frost because young cotyledons resist better than baby plants.
Cons: When you direct seed, 10 to 20 percent of your plantings may not germinate. They may also grow unevenly, making it harder to harvest them all at the same time. Direct seeding also has to overcome all of nature’s hazards: severe temperature changes, drought, floods, high winds, weeds, and pests.
Another difficulty with direct seeding involves planting density. Plants need 2-4 inches of space between each other, so they don’t compete for light, water, and nutrients. Also, the lack of airflow encourages diseases. You’ll usually direct seed extra, to compensate for that 10 to 20 percent mentioned earlier. That means you may have to thin your seedlings later, sacrificing healthy plants for the rest of the field.
Which is better?
It depends on market conditions, your location, individual plant features, and the price of the seed. Overall, the two methods may balance out in cost and yield, but it depends mainly on a grower’s circumstances.
While transplanting has higher initial expenses associated with developing the plants indoors and moving the seedlings to the field, you could see savings in the cost of seed, weeding, and irrigation. If you plant late because of challenging conditions, you may want to consider transplants because they can withstand more and mature faster.
On the other hand, some growers choose direct seeding because they may harvest earlier than transplants. The threat of frost plays a significant part in this choice; as mentioned earlier, young cotyledons seem to resist cold better than older plants.
Plants that grow well from direct seed
Beets, beans, carrots, melons, squash, spinach, radishes, peas
Plants that benefit from transplanting
Celery, eggplant, broccoli, onion, peppers, tomatoes, leeks, collards
So it depends on your area’s conditions, the efforts you can afford to expand, and the plants themselves.