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Seeds or seedlings, which should I grow?

Shall I buy seedlings or start my own plants from seeds? This is a question veteran and beginning gardeners mull over.

Some decisions are easy, because certain plants do not transplant well, including root vegetables such as radishes, beets and carrots, so their seeds need to be planted directly in the soil.

Other factors that can help make the seed or seedling decision is a lack of know-how — or lack of a suitable space — for seed starting. Lack of know-how can be overcome by learning from books, websites, classes and seed catalogs, many of which have a wealth of information.

Lack of a suitable space can be a serious factor. While you don't need a greenhouse to start seeds successfully, putting them on the window sill seldom provides enough heat and light. The plant reacts by "stretching" toward the light, producing weak, spindly stems.

I advise beginning gardeners to purchase seedlings until they have had some success with their gardening efforts. Starting seeds requires daily attention regarding water, light and heat. So if you are employed, travel a lot or are just a very busy person, you will soon discover that dried-out seeds don't sprout.

Some seeds are hard to start, such as tiny begonia seed or, as I mentioned last week, moonflower seeds. Three of them are up so far, by the way, and I have my fingers crossed that more of these notoriously difficult rascals will show their faces.

Two more factors in whether to purchase seedlings is the size of your garden space and your family's needs. If you have a small space or your family needs only two tomatoes, you're probably better off buying seedlings, which will give you the opportunity to try different varieties. Remember to buy plants grown here in the Rogue Valley. Because they are used to our climate, they will generally give you greater success.

We haven't mentioned cost yet. Under ideal conditions, a $2 packet of tomato seeds could yield 750 pounds of tomatoes. A half-ounce of lettuce seed could produce 1,000 lettuce plants. But will you really use that many? Will the leftover seed end up in the garbage can? And don't forget to factor in seed-starting mix, heat mats, lights, tools, pots and so on.

Am I opposed to starting plants from seed? Absolutely not! Like many experienced gardeners, the driving reason to start plants from seed is to see if we can do it. Can we get those seeds we saved last fall to sprout? How about the squash or pumpkin seeds given to us by a friend — can we be successful with those? Just plain curiosity, and satisfaction if we're successful, makes us try.

Coming up: I will teach a class on square-foot gardening from 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26, at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road in Central Point. Come and learn how much food you can grow in a small space, with minimal labor, water and weeds. Cost is $5. Call 541-776-7371 for information.

Email Carol Oneal at diggit1225@gmail.com.