Direct Sowing vs. Starting Seeds Indoors

by Fern on January 20, 2009

in Fruits & Vegetables,Herbs,Winter Gardening

If you’re a container gardener, is it better to sow seeds directly in your pots or planters, or is it better to start the seeds in starter pots indoors? To be honest, there isn’t one right answer. Different strokes for different folks and all that good stuff. Even the same gardener may decide that different seeds call for different approaches. Below you’ll find some pros and cons for each way of doing things. Be sure to throw in your two cents about direct sowing versus seed starting!


Best for:

  • Seedlings that don’t transplant well, like radishes, carrots, beets, poppies or morning glories (just to name a few).
  • Seeds that are excruciatingly tiny. They’re ripe for easy direct sowing techniques.
  • For pots full of the same plant.
  • Gardeners that prefer less fuss or who don’t have indoor space/equipment for seed starting.

Not so great when:

  • You want to design a pot in a specific way with specific plants in specific spots.
  • You have a short growing season and you want to grow a plant that needs a long time to develop or that is not cold hardy.
  • You’re having a tough time with pests (small seedlings are less able to recover from being partially eaten or otherwise attacked).


Best for:

  • Plants that don’t mind having their roots disturbed during transplanting.
  • Containers that you have a multi-plant plan for (it’s easier to design a pot with more mature plants in than it is to work with direct sown seedlings already in the pot).
  • Gardeners that enjoy doing more planning.
  • People who have space inside and the appropriate amount of light.
  • Gardeners with a short growing season.

Not so great when:

  • Your indoor space is limited and/or you don’t have enough light.
  • You have cats or dogs and no way to keep them away from your indoor growing area.
  • You’re more of a seat-of-your-pants type of gardener.
  • You have a long growing season and mild winters.
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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Nancy Bond January 20, 2009 at 6:38 am

Because I don’t have an ideal spot to seed indoors, I find container seeding works just fine for me. It means they get a slightly slower start, but that hasn’t hampered things in the past.


Jen January 20, 2009 at 7:31 am

Having the same issues, I usually start most of the seeds directly in the pot. However I did start some sunflowers in March, but never got around to planting them into the containers until July. They were, rather leggy, but turned out stunning in late September.



Adriana January 20, 2009 at 11:51 am

I have had success sowing beet and radish seeds with my soil blocker. Blocking doesn’t disturb the roots. Direct sowing doesn’t work well for me unless it’s corn, beans, or peas and I’ve know some gardeners to soil block those too!


prue January 20, 2009 at 3:17 pm

Wow Fern, so much thought into this. So far mine has been determined by how much space in inside the window, and what I feel like on a day. Whims should never be underrated!


Fern January 20, 2009 at 11:04 pm

Nancy — Yeah, balcony gardeners are in kind of a catch 22. People who don’t have huge yards often don’t have huge indoor spaces either.

Jen — Yeah, I’ve kept seedlings inside for too long before too.

Adriana — What is the benefit of soil blocking radishes?

Prue — LOL. I’m with ya on whims. I’m trying to be better at planning this year though.


Sarada January 21, 2009 at 8:48 am

I start seeds indoors because of the place where I live with less growing season. But last year I came to know about winter sowing where people start seeds outside and use them for transplants. I have also tried some winter sowed transplants I got from a plant swap and they did very well. May try this technique this year.


Adriana January 21, 2009 at 10:13 am

Hi’ya Fern!

Control is the only benefit for soil blocking radish seeds or any seeds for that matter. The wacky world of direct seed sowing doesn’t work for me. Something might eat me seeds! I know, I’m weird.


Fern January 21, 2009 at 7:29 pm

Adriana — I can honestly say that I have never had my seeds eaten. :-)

Sarada — I’ve never heard of winter sown transplants. Does that mean sowing seeds in pots outside during the winter? What would be the benefit of that?


Sarada January 22, 2009 at 6:01 am

I have not tried this so far, but I was pointed to
by the folks I met in a plant swap, who do a lot of winter sowing. There are forums available for this purpose. Living in california I don’t think you may need to do this :)


Fern January 23, 2009 at 8:56 am

Thanks for the link Sarada! I’ll have to check that out…


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