Seedling is the common name for a small plant. Most gardeners plant a combination of seeds and seedlings. How do you know which to plant? Like most things, it just depends. Almost any vegetable can be started from seed, but some require a long growing season. For example, if you want to grow tomatoes from seed, you need to start them indoors no later than February or early March. It takes about two months to grow a tomato from a seed to transplantable seedling. Once it’s transferred to the garden, it takes another three months before it starts bearing fruit. Heirloom varieties take a little longer.  That’s why most Kansas gardeners plant tomato seedlings in May. They can give you a head start and add several weeks to your growing season. Our growing season is about 180 days. Keep in mind, you’ll need enough time to grow the crop to maturity and allow for as long a harvest as possible. Timed right, it’s possible to enjoy garden-fresh tomatoes for nearly three months. Mother’s Day is traditionally the date to get your tomato seedlings in the ground, so don’t waste any time.      

Starting your garden from seed is more affordable, and gives you more varieties to choose from. A packet of seeds costs less than $2. That’s about half the price of a single seedling. If kept cool and dry, stored seeds are good for at least two or three years.  The planting instructions are right on the packet, in easy to understand terms. Here’s a short list of vegetables that should be planted as seeds and sown directly into the ground: carrots, beets, radishes, spinach, peas, cucumbers, melons, turnips and corn.  Young plants need to be thinned as they emerge from the soil so each one has enough room to grow.   

Planting seedlings has another advantage. It’s the quickest way to get your garden up and running.  Seedlings go straight into the ground and become established in just a few days. Here’s a few vegetables that really flourish as transplants: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, onions, kale and broccoli.      

Healthy seedlings are easy to recognize, and they’ll produce better fruits and vegetables. When it comes to transplants, younger and smaller is better. Avoid plants that have already set flowers or fruit, especially tomatoes. They’ll take longer to become established and may never reach their full potential. Inspect prospective purchases for signs of insects, disease or neglect. Leaves should be dark green with no wilting.  Check the undersides as well. Stems should be relatively thick, not spindly, and free from lesions or discoloration. Remove the plant from its container.  The soil should be moist, but not waterlogged.  Examine the roots. They should be white and pliable.  Avoid root bound plants that have outgrown their container. If you look carefully, you can often find containers with more than one plant. That’s two for the price of one.       

Plant your seedlings right away. If this isn’t possible, keep the roots moist. Bury the transplant at the same depth as the level of the container.  Tomatoes are the exception to this rule. They should be purchased between eight to 10 inches tall, and buried to a depth equal to two-thirds of their height. Water new transplants thoroughly for several days. Apply mulch to suppress weeds and minimize water loss through evaporation.   

Whether you use seeds or seedlings, get your garden off to a healthy start. 

Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at rnlyes@hotmail.com