Seeds and Plants - Which Should You Buy

One classic gardening dilemma involves the amount of time work and money involved in getting plant stock. I don't know about you, but I always want everything. If the big thing this year is fingerling eggplant, I'm there. If a chubby and adorable round zucchini is the cover model for a seed catalog, I'm checking my planting budget to work it in. If the local nursery has a big, healthy catnip specimen on sale, I'll try to find a spot for it even if I have eight other plants situated around the garden. I say this with a little trepidation because space, time and money are always at a premium, and I'm lousy at managing all three.

I have come up with a few guidelines over the years to help me decide how to get the best from my herbs without breaking the bank -- or missing out on choice candidates for adoption. These days many of my herbs come back year after year, and I also have a nice seed stash I keep stocked. With a nod to newbies who want to know how to get the most from their herbs, here are my hints for making decisions about when to buy seeds over plants or the other way around.

The Age Old Dilemma, Seeds or Plants

Annuals - I usually plant annuals from seed. Annuals go through their lifecycle in a single season and die when temperatures drop in late fall or early winter. This is a rule of thumb for me, and I grow a number of basil, marigold, cilantro and dill varieties from seed every year, harvesting seed crops to keep each variety going from season to season. Once you establish a gardening routine, this is an easy and inexpensive way to go. One nice thing about most annuals is that they grow quickly.

Labor intensive plants - If an herb is persnickety, I'll often opt for plants instead of seeds. Parsley is an example. It's a biennial: that means it creates lush growth the first year and comes back at the beginning of the following season to set seed. It's a bit of a pain because the second year you won't get much from that plant harvest besides seed, so you have to keep seed as well as leaf (first year harvest) plants in the garden to have a seed as well as a leaf crop in the same year.

Parsley also has tiny, hard seeds that can be tricky to germinate. Catnip is another challenge for me because the plants grow slowly and my cats are always trying to assassinate them before they're large enough to hold their own in the garden. These are just two examples of plants that work better for me when I let someone else bring them into the world.

Exotics - I usually buy exotic herb plants instead of trying to start them from seed -- the first time around, anyway. If I'm not sure I'll like an herb, like caraway thyme, for instance, I'll buy a single plant and see how it goes. If everything works out, I'll harvest the seeds and try to grow that variety from seed the next year. If the herb doesn't like it in my garden, or I don't like the look (or taste) of it, then we part ways after that single season together. I have revisited plants after rejecting them years earlier, but this is usually the way I try new things. The one exception is if it's hard for me to find a particular plant variety and seeds are all that happens to be available at the time.

Free -
I embrace free wherever I can find it, regardless. I've swapped seeds from friendly gardeners, tested seeds for growers and even snitched one or two stems on occasion. This is all in the spirit of research and good fellowship, mind you.

Heirlooms - I'm an advocate of heirloom seeds and plants, and am always wary of GMO (genetically modified) offerings (when I can identify them). I haven't discussed this before because it's a complicated topic and one I'm still trying to understand. I do like heirloom plants (or seeds) on principle because I think they're naturally hardy. I also think it's important to preserve these plant strains. (Not to say I'm doing this singlehandedly -- just that I'm putting my money where my mouth is.) If it's an heirloom variety, seed or plant, it gets a thumbs-up from me and maybe a little real estate on my lot.

Large and small - I'm susceptible to any herb that calls itself a miniature or mammoth variety of something I'm already familiar with. I'll get the plant if I can find one, seeds otherwise.

That's all for now. Have a great Monday.

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