When to Buy Herb Seeds versus When to Buy Herb Plants
This is often a difficult decision for many herbanites and understandably so. The economical question is why spend as much for an herb plant as one could spend for the seeds to make 20 – 100 plants.
Let’s address that issue with some practical advice and tips.
One area where seeds make sense is if the herb is a hot weather annual herb such as cilantro and one uses a great deal of the herb. It may make sense to seed weekly throughout the growing season so there is a constant supply of cilantro. However another option here would be Culantro which is much less work for the herbanite gardener.
Seeds make sense when the herb has a very short life cycle and especially if the herb is “out of it’s natural climactic zone” such as French Tarragon, Dill. Herbs in a hot, humid climate often go to seed rapidly and produce few leaves so a constant supply of new herb plants is necessary. When the herb is set on going to seed, then there is a short period of leaf production and the window of opportunity narrows as the season progresses. It is here that by seeding each week that the herbanite has a continuous supply of fresh leaves for a longer time period. Herbs that may fall into this classification would be basils, possibly parsley, summer savory, and chervil to name a few.
For traditional perennial herbs such as rosemary, lavender, oregano, sages, thymes etc. one plant, well established, will last for years so the cost of a plant is literally at most pennies, nickel or dime per year depending on the life of the plant. Remember herbs require little or no care at all which precludes the use of fertilizers, insecticide sprays etc. Most herbs are “beneficial weeds” and need to be treated as such.
Seed growing requires the purchase of many seeds and staggered planting or the herbanite ends up with a lot of herbs, same variety, all becoming available at once. If there is not a way to preserve the herbs, or use them as an everlasting, then one must consume or share at once before it dies. Also seeds generally may require the replanting into another container prior to being ready to go outside so there is a handling cost ( read TIME) to get ready to go into the garden.
Generally speaking there is minimal requirements for equipment to grow from seeds and often this can be done by reusing a container that was being used for something else or reusing one of the trays one received from taking home the herbs from HerbFest. As long as there is drainage holes in the bottom, fairly shallow depth (reason for this is no reason to spend money on a growing medium by filling up with much more medium than needed) and use something like saran wrap to create a “hot house” environment to encourage sprouting.
The above can be done in the home, on a window sill, or area where there is sunlight, but be careful not to overheat if left in sun. As the heat warms up the growing medium, the Saran wrap contains the moisture and prevents the drying out of the medium which would kill any new plants.
If one wants to do the propagation outside, and does not have a greenhouse, then find an old storm window and place on a hinged declining frame. The reason for the decline is as the plants emerge a simple stick can be put at the lower edge to hold the window up for fresh air to enter and for heat control. At night the window is lowered and during the day it is left open for better ventilation and heat reduction.
For most Herbanites the single most important issue is planting too much, too soon inside. Rather than being able to experiment with 10 varieties of basil the herbanite gardener ends up with 100 plants of one single variety!! The crush of winter, the anticipation of spring and summer often leads to this natural tendency to forget how many plants, how soon and how many leaves all come upon the herbanite at harvesting time.
For me, as one who pays someone to grow literally thousands of herbs, I’ve found it far more fun, economical to buy herb plants at once versus the expense, frustration, and cost of trying to “save money” by buying seeds knowing that severely limits my choices of new and unusual varieties of herbs in my garden. This coming from one who purchases over 10,000 herb plants over a 7 day period annually to resell.
Let the pros grow, let me play and have fun.