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Plant seeds being held in hand.

Why Use Seeds?

Since ancient times humans have been propagating plants for foods, clothing, and eye appeal.  Today, there are three main techniques that can be used to propagate plants including, the usage of seeds, use of cuttings (including air layering), and grafting.  However, have you ever asked why we use any of these techniques?  What are the pro’s and con’s of each of them?  What are some tips to improve your success?  In a series of blog posts, I hope to address these questions for each techniques.

Containers of freshly watered plant specimens in a greenhouse. Photo taken 05/24/16.

Why use seeds?

1. Typically best cost per individual option

Depending on the distributor, seeds are normally sold by weight or number of individuals.  This can be influenced by size, with larger seeds sold by individual, and smaller seeds by weight.  On average, a typical pack of seeds can run from $1.25 to $4, but you would get normally get more than 15 seeds and, in some cases, more than 1000, whereas a single plant will cost just as much.  Please remember, we are talking about common plant seeds.  When it comes to rarer, less common plants the cost goes up and the amount of seeds usually is lower.  For both of these the cost of seed is usually lower than the cost of buying a plant.

Small, new growth plants being grown in a greenhouse.

Small, new growth plants being grown in a greenhouse. Photo taken 04/04/16.

2.  Genetic diversity

If you are like me genetics was a topic that I tried to avoid, so I will keep this as uncomplicated as possible.  All seeds are produced from sexual reproduction.  The best seeds come about when the pollen (the male reproductive cell) from one plant’s flower is transported to another plant’s flower and fertilizes the ovule (the female reproductive cell).  This is pollination at it simplest.  The resulting seed from the union of the male and female cells will have traits of both parents.  Often the offspring will look identical to the parent plants but sometimes there are slight differences which can create new varieties, however genetic diversity leads to healthier plants.


Mass production of celery

Mass production of celery

3. More variety

Most commercial plant growers have limited space that they can start their product, often growing just a few of the bestselling varieties nationwide.  Since seeds take up a fraction of the space distributors can provide several different varieties.  You can find different varieties of colors, varieties for container gardens, and some that are drought and temperature tolerant.  Just make sure that the plant you select can grow in zone 9 as per the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.  This information is commonly available on the seed packet.

Bubble Bee on a purple coneflower.

Flowers and insects at the student gardens on the University of Florida campus. Pollinating bee. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

4.  Growing conditions

Have you ever wondered why the plants in the store look so healthy?  They usually don’t have many bugs, hardly any diseases and are the right size?  Unfortunately, to get us the perfect plant,  they have to treat the plants with insecticides, fungicides and growth inhibitors.  This allows the plants time to be shipped, stocked and sold before problems arise and the plant takes up too much space.  Often these chemicals are detrimental to beneficial insects and pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

Utilizing seeds allows us more control over what is used to control pests and diseases.  Seed packets are now labeled as organically grown and since you are the one growing them you know what and when a pesticide was used.  You also have a choice of using products that are  more environmentally friendly.

Pea vine with white flowers.

Peas. UF/IFAS Photo by Tom Wright.

5. Time

Finally using seeds allows you to start plants earlier either in a bright area in your house, in a greenhouse, or a hot box.  You can also stagger your planting time.  Start with planting two rows of Peas on week one and then the next rows in week three.  By doing this you extend the harvest and don’t have all you peas ready at the same time.  You can experiment with growing things at different times of year.  Try growing cherry tomatoes in pots in the summer and planting beefsteaks in the winter.

I hope I have given you some context on why you should use seeds.  In the next blog of this series, I will look into some of the drawbacks of using seeds and ways to overcome them.  Then, I will address common mistakes and controlling insects, a DIY seedling mix, and interpreting seed packets before moving on to the next technique of cuttings and layering.

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