What to Direct sow and What to Transplant

Which Plants are Best to Direct Sow in the Garden

Creating a planting plan for your garden and figuring out when to plant each seed often feels like a daunting task.  Many plants do well with an early start in the warmth of your house, and some seeds are perfectly fine, and actually prefer, to be sown directly into your garden.  There are several things to consider when you a choosing to direct sow seeds or transplant seedlings into your garden.


Should You Direct Sow? What to Consider

Before you decide to direct sow seeds into your garden, check the length of your growing season, and compare this to the growing season required for the produce to mature (you can usually find this on the back of the seed pack or in a gardening book). Anything you put into your garden must have enough time to reach maturity before the next cold season sets in.  This is especially important in colder temperatures with a short growing season. Many of the candidates for direct sowing include plants that can survive in cooler temperatures (lettuce and peas) or plants that don’t like their roots disturbed (like carrots). In general the seeds to direct sow will:

  • Mature quickly (especially in colder climates)
  • Handle colder temperatures
  • Prefer not to have their roots disturbed

What to Sow Directly

In general, the larger seeds do well planted directly outside.   The rule (mostly true) is to plant the seed at twice to three times the depth of its diameter, so these seeds are planted deeper and their roots are thus more protected from the weather: think corn, peas, beans, and squash. While many of these are available to purchase as seedlings, we’ve found just as much success with directly planting them in the garden.

Starting from a pack of $3 seeds also can save you a significant amount of money when you compare this to the cost of seedlings.  On the flip side, the really itsy bitsy seeds (such as lettuce and kale) are also good to direct sow since it is difficult to find and plant just a single seed in a container.  

Root vegetables do not transplant well, and are therefore best planted directly in the ground.  This includes carrots, radishes, beets, and turnips.   Since the roots are what create the crop, bent roots inside containers can cause bent or discouraged vegetables.

Many flowering annuals are also wonderful to sow directly into the garden.   The seeds package will usually tell you whether they are better to start indoors or direct sow. It’s always helpful to do a little research since some seeds germinate better after soaking in water, putting in the fridge for a few days or even scoring them.

You may think that if you start your seeds indoors, you will have a faster harvest. This is sometimes true, but the shock to the plant of transplanting can also slow the growth. If you are unsure, you can always start a few seedlings and direct sow a few others. Make sure to take notes about what works best so you will know how to plant next year.

General List of the Best Seeds to Direct Sow in the Garden

  • Beans
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Melons
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Radish
  • Spinach
  • Squashes
  • Turnips
  • Zucchini

General List of the Best Seeds to Plant as Transplants in the Garden

Note that this depends on your hardiness zone – even in zone 5 we’ve had some success direct sowing some of these seeds.

How to Direct Sow Seeds

No matter whether you direct sow or transplant seedlings into your garden, make sure you take time to prepare your garden bed before you plant.  Depending on what you did in the fall, add compost, and plant your seeds according to the directions on the seeds pack or gardening book, and make sure you wait until the soil warms enough in the spring for germination. Follow the steps below to direct sow your seeds:

  1. Prepare your garden beds – make sure your garden bed is weed free. Build up your garden soil by adding compost if needed. Make sure your garden bed gets enough sun and is located in a place where you will be able to water the seeds.
  2. Read the growing information on the seed packet and decide when to plant. Some plants will die back in a frost, so keep an eye of the weather and make sure you understand the climate on your backyard farm. Your hardiness zone will help give you an idea of when to plant.
  3. Plant your seeds – most seeds should be planted about 2-3 times as deep as the seed width. Check the seed pack or search online for specific information on your seeds. Some seeds are better planted in rows and other in hills.
  4. Once your seeds are planted and gently covered with soil, water them immediately and keep them moist until you see germination. As they germinate, their roots are very small and it’s very easy for them to dry out, but if you overwater, it’s also possible to wash away your smaller seeds
  5. Mark your seeds. You can use sticks, posts, seed markers to keep track of what you’ve planted.
  6. As your seeds start to send up their first shoots, you will want to thin them and weed between the plants.
  7. Protect your seedlings if you see signs of a frost, heavy wind or other extreme weather.
  8. Take care of your seedlings as they continue to grow and get ready for a great harvest!

Gardening is part science, part art, and part luck! If something doesn’t work one year, don’t be afraid to try again, or adjust your plan the following year. It is a process that involves tweaking from year to year and no matter how long you’ve been gardening you will always make new mistakes and find new things to learn.

For more information on gardening, visit the gardening page here at the Backyard Farming Connection.

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