Seeds vs plants – which is better?

square black pot with young seedling of Candle Anemone

Candle Anemone

It’s that time of year when seed catalogues tantalize
us with colorful pictures and inspire us to create
lists of all the plants we want to add to our garden
this coming summer.   There are companies selling
native plant seeds as well as potted seedlings.
Which is better?

cluster of brown furry seeds from Candle Anemone

Candle Anemone seeds

There are several factors to consider:

  • seed/plant source – finding seed or plants that are genetically close to the native plants around you is important both for ensuring plants are happy in your environment and to prevent weedy species from being introduced to your area
  • cost – seeds are definitely the cheaper route
  • speed of growth – plants win out here – if you want instant gratification go with plants.  Seeds often take a year or two to get established, and sometimes even longer to bloom.  Also some seeds will refuse to germinate unless climactic conditions are favorable for success and they may sit in the ground ungerminated until that happens.
  • amount of care – again plants have this one.  Unless you plant in the fall, seeds often require periods of cold stratification (usually 30-90 days) and constant monitoring and watering for several weeks after planting.   Plants on the other hand need regular (but not constant) watering for several weeks.

So the decision depends on your goals and your budget.  If you can afford it – go with plants.  They fill in quickly, establish easily and take less care.

Check out http://www.blackfootnativeplants.com for plant suggestions.  The website is undergoing a total overhaul but we expect to have the new site up before March 1.

If you are looking for a source of native plant seed near Missoula, check out Native Ideals Seed Co. in Arlee.

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One thought on “Seeds vs plants – which is better?

  1. One way to avoid most of the downsides you mentioned regarding seeds is to surface sow in the fall. This allows nature to do all the watering and cold stratification while you sit back and enjoy your hot cocoa by the fire. The reason this works so well is because this is exactly how seed germination and recruitment happens in the wild. Seeds are dropped from plants in the late summer or early fall, then germinate in the early spring…sometimes as early as February. You’re right about the time investment. Maybe it’s the native plant geek in me but there’s something extremely rewarding about watching a tiny seed that weighs less than a tenth of a gram grow up to be a hardy, drought-tolerant wildflower, if you have the time. Thanks for starting this conversation, this is always a fun discussion with folks at the market!
    rebecca
    Native Ideals Seed Farm

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