Should I Start Seeds Indoors or Outdoors?

Tomato seedlings growing indoors Tomato seedlings growing indoors.

Starting plants from seed is an extremely rewarding and frugal method of obtaining vegetables, herbs, or fruit for your garden. Many new gardeners start out with transplants from a local nursery or garden center when planting. While there is nothing wrong with buying plants, it can be costly and the choices are limited. When shopping for seeds, even the most experienced gardener is amazed at the selections available. Tomatoes alone have hundreds of varieties that can be grown from seed.

One doesn’t need a greenhouse to start seeds indoors, but it does require potting soil, pots or flats, and space to grow until it’s time to transplant the seedlings into the garden. Do all seeds have to be sown inside, or can some be planted directly in the garden? I love sowing directly into the garden, so over the years I’ve done research on which vegetable and herb seeds can be sown directly into the soil. The list below will help you decide what seeds need to be grown inside, and which can be planted outside when the time is right.

Seeds to sow outside

  • Anise
  • Arugula
  • Pole Beans
  • Bush Beans
  • Fava Beans
  • Beets
  • Bok Choy
  • Borage
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Chervil
  • Chicory
  • Chinese Cabbage
  • Calendula
  • Caraway
  • Carrots
  • Cilantro
  • Collard Greens
  • Comfrey
  • Sweet Corn
  • Cucumber
  • Dill
  • Endive
  • Fennel
  • Kale
  • Kohl rabi
  • Leek
  • Lettuce
  • Lovage
  • Mache-Corn Salad
  • Marjoram
  • Mesclun Salad Mix
  • Millet
  • Mustard Greens
  • Nasturtium
  • Okra
  • Bunching Onions
  • Onions-Cippolina
  • Parsley
  • Parsnips
  • Peas
  • Pumpkin
  • Radish
  • Rutabaga
  • Salsify
  • Spinach
  • Sorrel
  • Summer and Winter Squash
  • Sunflower
  • Swiss Chard
  • Turnips
  • Watermelon

Seeds to sow inside

  • Celery
  • Celeriac
  • Eggplant
  • Lavender
  • Lemon Balm
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Onion (some varieties)
  • Peppers
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Strawberry
  • Thyme
  • Tomatoes
  • Tomatillos

Seeds to sow either inside or outside

  • Amaranth
  • Artichoke
  • Basil
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Chives
  • Cress (watercress)
  • Leek
  • Melon
  • Peanuts

Some plants are simply too difficult to grow from seed for various reasons. Flavored mints such as chocolate mint don’t grow “true to seed” which means the seed from the plant will revert to a standard mint. It can be grown from rooting pieces of the plant in soil or planting divisions from the original plant.

French tarragon is another herb that cannot be grown from seed. The tiny flowers are sterile. This type of tarragon must be grown from cuttings or divisions of the plant. There is a Russian tarragon and a Mexican tarragon that are sometimes substituted, but the flavor isn’t comparable.

There are also the vegetables that are grown from pieces of the vegetable itself, the roots or crowns. Some, like lemongrass or rhubarb, can be grown from seed but it’s known to be very difficult. Asparagus can be planted from seed but it will take years until it can be harvested. One-year-old crowns will give it a head start, so that is often advised over planting seed.

These herbs or vegetables include:

  • Asparagus
  • Garlic
  • Horseradish
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Lemongrass
  • Lemon Verbena
  • Potato
  • Rhubarb
  • Sweet Potato

Looking over the lists above should give you a good idea of what vegetables and herbs can be grown from seed, either indoors or outdoors. If you were thinking of growing any of the plants that are grown with other methods, you’ll be able to work those into your garden planning as well.

Planning is an important step in growing a successful garden. Start with a wish list of plants, then determine if it’s realistic based on your budget, time and space allowances, climate, soil and location. You’ll find that organization and planning makes for a wonderful and productive garden season.

Now that you’ve looked over that list, go to the following articles to learn more on the specifics of starting seeds.

Image from Wikimedia Commons user Golden Hound


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