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Southern California gardening: start from seed or plants?

Is it better to start plants from seed or to buy plants at a nursery or garden center? In the mild climate of Southern California, the answer is, it depends.

By Gerald Burke / February 20, 2011

To get the results you want in your Southern California garden, you can start some of your flowers from seeds or buy some plants. Both have advantages.

Courtesy of Gerald Burke

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A question that often perplexes beginning gardeners is: “Do I plant seeds or use started plants from the nursery?"

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It's an easy question to answer, but there are a few points to consider.

Reasons to start from seed

Often seed is just as easy as plants, maybe even more rewarding, depending on what you want to grow. And seeds often are less expensive than plants.

In sunny and warm Southern California, the opportunity to plant from seed is extensive. I plant seeds almost all year long -- zinnia, marigold, alyssum, gaillardia, celosia, nasturtium, portulaca, calendula, and for vegetables, beet, carrot, bean, corn, cucumber, squash, pumpkin, lettuce, melon, pea, and a few others.

Those are all seeds that are easy to plant, and the variety offered in seed catalogs and on seed racks is extensive.

Why to start with plants

On the other hand, I go to my favorite nursery or garden center for many plants. Why?

Because I don’t want to take the trouble to spend weeks getting them ready to go into the garden. Also because some of the best flowers and vegetables are available as started plants and I can include those varieties in both the summer and winter garden quickly and with less trouble.

Another reason is that some specialty nurseries carry plants that I can’t find listed in seed catalogs -- for example, some heirloom tomatoes -- and other little-known flowers and vegetables.

So the real answer to the question is to do both -- start some flowers and vegetables from seed and buy some as plants.

For me, the end result is I get what I want in the garden, when I want it and with the least effort, and I can spend more time on cultivating, pruning and shaping, and just plain admiring my garden.

Even when it’s raining in dry old Southern California, I can look out the dining room window and see my calendulas blooming their heads off.

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Gerald Burke is a freelance horticultural writer. He spent 35 years in the seed business, 30 of them with Burpee, and is a member of the Garden Writers Association. To read more by Gerald on southern California gardening, click here.

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