The Garden Digs

Transplant vs Direct Sow: How to Know which Planting Method to Use

Transplant vs Direct Sow: How to Know which Planting Method to Use

There are so many opinions about how you should plant your garden that it can seem overwhelming. Gardeners have strong opinions about how to fertilize, keep pests away, and even the best crops to grow. It’s no surprise that you can often find biased opinions about how to start your garden also. Some people swear by direct sowing seeds, while other people prefer the satisfaction of transplanting seedlings into their garden.

Does it matter which method you choose for your garden? It absolutely does, and choosing the right method for your selected seeds can have a serious impact on your plants.

Direct Sow vs. Transplanting

The difference between direct sowing and transplanting is pretty straightforward. It all depends on where the seeds are originally planted.


Transplanting involves starting seeds in one location and later relocating them into your garden. You can either start your own seeds indoors and transplant them or you can purchase started plants from your local nursery and transplant them into your garden.

Starting seeds indoors requires additional time, care, and supplies, like a grow light, heat mat, or even a light stand. Transplanted crops are usually started indoors around January or February, and don’t move outside until the weather is suitable for growing.

Transplanting crops that are already growing can be very satisfying. With a little soil prep, you can quickly and easily plant a large garden that you can already see. You don’t have to wait on the plants to germinate and emerge through the soil.

Purchasing started plants is significantly more expensive than purchasing and planting seeds. There is a payoff to this though; the plants that are already started will begin to produce vegetables and fruit for you much quicker than seeds that you direct sow.

Direct Sowing

When you direct sow seeds, you plant the seeds directly into your garden’s soil. There’s no need to start seeds indoors and relocate them later. Where you plant the is where they will grow and stay.

Direct sowing is a much simpler process than transplanting – you don’t have to start seeds early or worry about fussy supplies like a heat mat and grow light. You can sow seeds right into the ground, water, and watch grow.

Direct sowing is also very dependent upon the weather. When you plant your seeds, you want them to be planted into soil that is both warm enough and moist without being soggy. This can be tricky in the spring. If your winter is long or your spring is extremely wet, you may have to delay when you plant your garden.

Which Method to Use

Each crop prefers a different method, so your direct sow and transplanting strategy will be unique for every crop you plant.

Seeds that are tough or have a think seed coat are best suited for direct sowing. Most tough seeds are larger seeds, like corn, beans, and peas and can handle being sown straight into the soil. Seeds like watermelon, cantaloupe, squash and pumpkins are also good candidates for direct sowing. These seeds are protected with a tough seed coat and perform well when planted straight into the soil.

Larger seeds are also much easier to handle. This makes it easier to space them out properly when you direct sow them. Smaller seeds are harder to handle and separate. If you direct sow small seeds, you’re more likely to plant them too close together, meaning you’ll have to thin your plants later on.

Smaller seeds are often more sensitive to cooler temperatures and growing conditions, which makes them better candidates for starting indoors and transplanting. These seeds are typically started indoors using soft soil mixtures. Once the seedlings develop true leaves, they can be moved outdoors and transplanted into the garden.

Plan on transplanting crops like tomatoes or peppers. These tender seeds will do much better if they are already started before you put them into the garden.

Have you already bought seeds for leafy greens or other plants that have tiny seeds? These crops perform best in cooler weather, a time when we don’t tend to think about direct sowing seeds outdoors. Some of these tiny seeds can be broadcast in a garden bed.

Plants like spinach, kale, or greens can be broadcast and then gently raked into the soil when weather is cool but not yet cold. You can also start seeds for lettuce, Brussels sprouts, cabbage or other cool weather crops indoors. Seeds for lettuce and green leafy or cruciferous vegetables are quite small and can be very difficult to handle. It’s also helpful to purchase pelleted seeds, which encapsulate the seed in a coating to make them easier to handle.

Tips for Direct Sowing Success

The weather and garden environment need to be ideal before you start sowing seeds into the ground. Don’t try to plant seeds straight into last year’s garden bed without any prep work. Not only will your germination rate be lower, but you will tire yourself out before planting all of your seeds!

The garden soil should be free of frost and the threat of frost should be behind you before sowing seeds. Most garden plants will germinate when the soil temperature is in the 60s or higher. Some cool season crops will germinate even if temperatures dip into the 40s.

Start by cleaning up your garden bed. Remove any debris, leftover crops, or weeds that managed to survive the winter.

You’ll also want to take the time to prep your soil. It’s much easier to plant seeds into soft soil. If your soil is hard, break it up with a tiller or a small shovel. Seeds need to be able to break through the soil when they germinate, so soft soil is essential.

Once the soil is cleaned up and loosened, perform any soil testing that you need to do. Check the pH (most garden soil should be slightly acidic, around 6.5 for most vegetable plants) and should have plenty of nutrients in it. If you need to amend your soil, do that before putting your seeds into the ground. Make sure that any amendments you put down are gentle enough for your seeds and seedlings.

Use a garden hoe or a piece of string to mark off a straight line for your rows.

Some large seeds that have a tough seed coat will germinate better if you scratch the coating of the seed. Use your fingernail to scratch the coating of squash seeds, watermelons, and cantaloupes.

You can also increase the germination rate by soaking seeds in water the night before you plant them.

Now, check the back of your seed packet for planting information. The seed packet should tell you how deep to plant your seeds, how far to space them out, and how long you can expect it to take them to germinate. Sow your seeds according to the directions on the packet.

I like to keep a garden journal while I’m working in the garden. It’s a good place to keep up with things like germination rate. Write down how many seeds you planted and how many actually emerge. Divide the number of seedlings that emerged by the number of seeds you planted to calculate your germination rate. You can compare this number to the germination rate found on your seed packet. If your germination rate is low, you may want to make changes to how you direct sow that crop next year or consider changing cultivars.

Tips for Transplanting Success

There are two ways that you can get plants to transplant into your garden. You can either purchase started plants or you can start your own seeds indoors and transplant the seedlings into your garden.

Plants that you purchase from a garden center or a nursery can be expensive. Plan on spending anywhere from $1-6 per plant if you’re purchasing started plants. Alternatively, you can start your own seeds indoors to reduce the costs.

There are benefits to starting your own seeds indoors.

  • You’ll have a greater selection of varieties to choose from.
  • The costs are much lower than purchasing started plants from someone else.
  • You can ensure that the strongest and most vigorous plants are the ones that make it into your garden.

Do a little bit of prep work before you start transplanting crops into your garden. Just like with direct-sowing, make sure that the threat of frost has passed. Summer crops will do best when temperatures remain above 60 degrees. Cool season crops like greens, lettuce or cruciferous vegetables can handle temperatures that dip into the 40s.

Remove any debris or weeds from the soil. Weeds that are left behind are competition for the vegetable plants. They will compete with your plants for space, nutrients, and sunlight. The process of transplanting can be shocking to plants. You want to eliminate as much stress from the environment as possible, including weeds.

Thoroughly water your plants before removing them from their original container. Dig a hole that is larger than the size of the container that the plant was in. Gently break up the soil around the roots to loosen the roots up before placing it into the hole.

Cover the roots loosely with soil and water deeply. Add soil as needed to fill in the soil. Repeat if necessary.

I have found that some of the containers designed to break down don’t break down quickly enough. Sometimes the plant’s roots will become caught in the pot and run out of nutrients. You can easily prevent this. Take a pair of scissors and quickly cut down the sides of the pot. I like to make three or four cuts per pot. Use caution to prevent cutting and damaging the roots of the seedling while you do this. The slits will allow the roots to break through the pot before it actually breaks down if needed.

Final Thoughts

The best way to plant your garden is to use the planting method most recommended for your crops. Use direct sowing for large seeds that have a hard, tough coating. Beans, sunflowers, peas, squash and melon seeds are all ideal for direct sowing.

Transplant crops that have smaller seeds, like tomatoes, petunias, and peppers.

You can use either method to plant your garden out as long as the threat of frost has passed and the soil is warm enough. Do a little prep work to your garden bed before you plant or sow seeds. Eliminate any weeds or debris that will slow down your plants’ growth.

Shelby DeVore is an avid gardner that has 20+ years of experience gardening in all kinds of conditions, from apartment balconies and kitchen counters to traditional garden beds. You can find more of her tips and advice on her homesteading website: Farminence.

How to Perform a Soil Test at Home

How to Perform a Soil Test at Home

The best gardens have the best soil for the plants growing in them; soil is the foundation for a thriving garden. It's also where your plants will get the majority of their nutrients, housing the young seedling and providing the starting point for growth. Make sure that your soil is up to the task before you start gardening by checking your soil’s health.

Should You Test Your Soil?

Good soil can be the difference between your lush, productive garden and your neighbor’s sad and wilty one.

It’s a good practice to routinely test your soil. Growing plants will take up nutrients from the soil and unless you’re replacing them, the soil won’t just generate these nutrients on their own. You’ll need to monitor the soil’s health and add fertilizers or amendments as the soil is depleted.

Avoid nutrient deficiencies by amending the soil regularly. For vegetable gardens, test the soil at the end of a growing season. This will give you time to amend the soil and add nutrients back before you replant.

You can also test bagged soil that you plan on filling containers with. Most bagged soil is healthy, but it’s always reassuring to double check.

If you’re making major amendments, test the soil again before you plant to prevent burning the roots of your plants.

What are You Testing For?

There are several things that you can test your soil for. The most common nutrients that you’ll test for include the primary macronutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Without these nutrients, most plants won’t survive long.

If you want a complete analysis of your soil, you’ll have to have your soil professionally tested. This can be costly and usually isn’t necessary to grow gorgeous flowerbeds or productive vegetable gardens.

You can also test the soil’s pH level. The pH level tells you how acidic or basic the soil is. The pH is rated on a scale from 1-12. 7 is considered neutral. Anything below 7 (0-6.99) is considered acidic. Anything above 7 (7.01-12) is considered basic or alkaline. Most vegetable plants grow best at a slightly acidic soil. Most flowering and landscape plants grow best in soil that is between slightly acidic-neutral.

The pH is important because it determines how available the nutrients are in your soil. If the pH isn’t right, your plants won’t be able to absorb nutrients, even if the nutrient levels are high.

If you’re using a digital soil analyzer, you’ll be able to test the soil’s temperature also. This isn’t necessary, but it’s a good feature to know if you’re planting seeds in the ground.

Seeds can’t germinate if the soil isn’t warm enough. The temperature needed for seed germination will vary depending on the type of plant.

Using a Soil Test Kit

A soil test kit is one of the easiest ways to get an idea of your soil’s health.

You may think that the darker your soil is, the healthier it is. While this is a good general rule, it’s not always true. Looks can definitely be deceiving! Test your soil to get a true analysis of your soil.

I’m going to walk you through how to use a soil test kit. It may seem complicated, but it’s really not! It’s pretty simple and won’t take long at all.

All soil test kits are slightly different but they test for the same things. I’m going to walk you through using a professional soil test kit by Environmental Concepts. In order to test your soil, you’ll need a soil sample.

It’s a good idea to take several soil samples since the soil can vary greatly from one location to another. If you’re testing the soil for vegetable gardens, take the sample from about 4” deep. The same is true for perennials that will develop deeper root systems. For lawns, annuals and houseplants, take the soil sample from 2-3” below the surface since these plants tend to have shallower roots.

Don’t touch the soil with your hands.

Put the soil into a clean container where it can dry out. The drier your soil sample is, the easier it is to test. When your soil sample is dry, remove any small rocks, sticks, mulch, pieces of grass or other organic material. Crumble the soil up into a fine consistency and mix it up.

how to perform a soil test at home

Testing for pH

Get out one of the clean test tubes. You’ll notice that it’s marked in milliliters. Using the small scoop in the test kit, fill the test tube up to 1 mL with your soil. Wipe the scoop clean.

Add one scoop of barium sulfate to the soil sample. The barium sulfate will help the sample to settle so that you can look at your pH results. Wipe the scoop clean again.

Next, get out the bottle labeled ‘pH Test Solution’. Slowly start adding the solution to the test tube with the soil sample and barium sulfate. Fill the tube with pH solution up to the 2.5 mL mark.

Put the top on the test tube. Shake the test tube vigorously for about 30 seconds. Set the test tube to the side and allow it to settle for 5 minutes.

After five minutes, the soil should be settled enough for you to read the results. Compare the liquid above the soil to the chart included with the test kit. If the soil hasn’t settled into a different layer at the bottom of the tube, add another scoop of barium sulfate, shake it up again and wait another five minutes.

Testing for Nitrogen(N), Phosphorus(P) and Potassium(K)

Before you can test for N, P and K, you’ll need to get the filtering device ready.

Start by removing the green cap on the filtering device. Take the plunger out. You’ll see one end of the plunger has several small holes in it. Get out one of the filter papers and place it into the end of the plunger.

Use the scoop to press the paper down tightly into the end of the plunger. Now you can fill the barrel of the test tube with your soil.

To test all three nutrients, you’ll need to prepare a sample in the filtering device for each nutrient you want to test.

For nitrogen, fill the barrel up to the 1 mL mark with soil. Then, get out the bottle labeled N1 Nitrate Extractant Solution. Fill the barrel up to the 2.5 mL mark. Place the plunger back into the filtering device just enough to keep it in. Shake the filtering device gently for 30 seconds. Press the plunger down gently until the tip of the plunger just touches the soil solution in the barrel.

Screw the cap back onto the filtering device. Screw it down slowly. This will cause the plunger to press down into the solution. Continue screwing the cap down until there is adequate solution in the plunger. Don’t tilt the filtering device. The cap has a hole in it and you’ll spill the solution if you’re not careful.

Remove the cap and pour the solution from the plunger into a clean test tube. If you’ve done it properly, you should have a test tube with solution that is free of debris or soil.

Fill the test tube to the 1mL mark. Add one scoop of the N2 Nitrate Reactant Powder to the test tube. Place the cap on it and shake it for 10 seconds. Let the test tube sit upright for 5 minutes.

Compare the solution’s color to the chart included in the test kit. To test for phosphorus and potassium, clean out the filtering device and test tubes with soap and water. This will prevent contamination between tests that could affect your results. Place a new filtering disc in the filtering device.

For phosphorus, fill the barrel of the filtering device with .5 mL of soil. Then add the P1 Phosphorus Extractant Solution to the barrel until it reaches the 2 mL mark. Shake it for 30 seconds and then filter out 1 mL of solution using the same methods that you used for the nitrogen test.

Once your test tube has 1 mL of solution in it, add ½ of a scoop of the P2 Phosphorus Reactant Powder. Place a cap on the test tube and shake it gently for 5 minutes. Immediately remove the cap and compare the color of the solution to the chart included in the test kit. Clean the filtering device and test tubes with soap and water before testing for potassium.

For potassium, fill the barrel of the filtering device with .5 mL of soil. Then add the K1 Potassium Extractant Solution to the barrel up to the 2 mL mark. Shake it for 20 seconds and then filter out 1 mL of solution using the same methods that you used for the nitrogen and phosphorus tests.

Once your test tube has 1 mL of solution in it, add 0.5 mL of the K2 Potassium Reactant Solution. Don’t shake it up. Let the solution stand for 5 minutes. You’ll notice that the solution is cloudy. The degree of cloudiness indicates how much potassium is present. Place the test tube in the circle next to the potassium reading chart. Place it on the surplus reading first and move it down the chart until one of the boxes is just visible. That is the reading for your sample.

How to Garden While Pregnant (Without Killing Yourself!)

How to Garden While Pregnant (Without Killing Yourself!)

Written by Shelby of Farminence 

Gardening is a wonderful way to get outdoors for some sunshine and a little bit of exercise. Both of these are beneficial if you're pregnant, making gardening a perfect activity for pregnant women.

But, pregnancy itself can come with some limitations that can affect how enjoyable gardening is. If you’re feeling nauseous in the mornings (thanks crazy hormones), then the last thing you may want to do is go outside into the heat and check on your plants.

As pregnancy advances, it becomes harder to bend over, making seed sowing, planting and harvesting seem nearly impossible. Luckily, I’ve got some tips and tricks for you. Learn what you can do to make gardening while pregnant both manageable and enjoyable!

Tools are Your Best Friend

I’ve always been a fan of gardening tools that can make your gardening tasks easier, but gardening during pregnancy makes good tools a must have. I can’t imagine gardening without the help of my tiller or my newly discovered favorite tool, the seed sower. If you’ve ever been looking for an excuse to splurge on an expensive tool that will cut your gardening work load, then pregnancy is the perfect excuse.

During my first pregnancy, I had a small rototiller that I used to break up the soil in my garden. I was about 4 months pregnant at the time. We had a large garden to plant (about ¼ acre) and I had a tiny rototiller to help me. It felt like it took me about six years to till that garden up! Not only did that tiny tiller try to vibrate my arms off, but I was exhausted by the time it was tilled up. That was the same year that we invested in a large tiller that doesn’t vibrate nearly as much and is self-propelled. Since then, tilling up the garden has been a breeze, whether I’m pregnant or not.

I’ve always been a huge fan of planting seeds. It’s cheaper and you’re less limited in your selection. Maybe I’m just frugal, but to me, it just makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense is trying to plant seeds while you’re massively pregnant. You know, the point in your pregnancy when you’re not really sure if your feet even exist or not? Sowing seeds at this point seems not only impossible but ridiculous. Enter my new favorite gardening tool: the seed sower.

With a price tag around $100, it always seemed like a splurge. I mean, did I really need a seed sower? I put off buying one each year. LITTLE DID I KNOW THAT A SEED SOWER WOULD CHANGE MY LIFE.

When we started planting our garden out this year, I told my husband and two kids that I’d be needing help to plant. I think I helped my daughter plant about 5 squash plants before I realized that my 7 months-pregnant belly was not going to let me plant, much less sow a ton of seeds. So, we buckled and got a seed sower.

First of all, let me just say that sowing seeds by hand now seems ridiculous.

The inventor of the seed sower should be entered into the gardening hall of fame. It’s just as necessary and important as the cotton gin, steel plow or tractor. No more popping knees and broken back after sowing a row of seeds. A good seed sower will literally create a row for you, insert and space out seeds and then cover them back up. It’s amazing and mind-blowing that I never had one until this year.

Before the seed sower, it took me hours to sow seeds in our garden. With the seed sower, it literally took less than 30 minutes. Saying a seed sower is necessary during pregnancy is an understatement.

Enlist Help

You likely didn’t’ get pregnant on your own, so why should you have to tackle getting your garden in the ground on your own? Gardening while you’re pregnant can be a difficult task, especially when you’re planting and trying to get your garden established.

Don’t feel bad asking family members or your spouse for help. You’re working hard to tote around a new human, so it’s only fair for your spouse or children to help out. You’ll probably be surprised at how good of a job they’ll do to help out.

And if their gardening skills are subpar, don’t freak out about it. When my son was 4, I was pregnant with my daughter. I needed help planting and my husband worked a ton at the time so I knew that I would have to rely on my son for help. He helped me plant everything and get seeds in the ground. My rows weren’t straight and perfect, but that was one of the best years our garden has had.

When you’re asking for help, ask for help with the tasks that you can’t do.

Getting plants in the ground is one of the most difficult tasks to manage when you’re pregnant since bending over isn’t always an option. If you have kids already, they will probably really enjoy helping with planting and getting their hands dirty.

Also, don’t feel ashamed if you need to bring a chair out to the side of the garden and park it under a nearby shade tree to supervise. Make sure that plants are getting into the ground, but don’t be overbearing when giving advice to your help. This may just be the best year your garden has.


Think About Your Seed and Plant Selection

This may sound like common sense, but if you’ve been gardening for a while, you probably have some favorite plants that are your go-tos each year.

Gardening during pregnancy can be so much easier if you plant crops that are easier for you to manage. Try to avoid low-lying plants if you are growing in the soil. Carrots, radishes, onions and bush beans or bush peas are harder to reach if you can’t bend over.

Opt for a climbing variety of beans or peas and run them up a trellis. They will be much easier for you to reach to harvest and care for. For small or low-lying plants, consider planting in containers or raised beds. This will get them up off the ground and make them easier for you to reach.

You can even try out some container-friendly varieties of crops like patio tomatoes or cucumbers. You may just find a new favorite variety.

Gardening Safety During Pregnancy

It’s important to stay safe while you’re gardening at any time, but it’s especially true to practice safe gardening during pregnancy.

Gardening seems like a totally safe task to take on during pregnancy, but there are a couple of things that you need to consider.

Make sure that cats aren’t using your garden as an outdoor litter box. For some reason, garden soil seems really appealing to cats. Unfortunately, cat feces can carry a harmful bacterium that causes toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis can cause fetal problems and even miscarriages or stillbirths. If cats use your garden as a litter box, make sure that you’re using gloves and washing your hands properly.

Pregnancy is the perfect time to experiment with integrated pest management (IPM). IPM is a method of controlling pests without harmful pesticides. Not only is IPM more environmentally friendly, but it’s safer during pregnancy. Use pesticides and chemicals as a last resort. If you have help, have them apply any chemicals to the garden. If you’re the one managing the garden, wear long sleeves, long pants and gloves to apply chemicals. Don’t apply them if it’s windy to help reduce the likelihood that you’ll inhale any chemicals.

Gardening during pregnancy is manageable with a little planning ahead. Be sure that you’re always being safe and if something is uncomfortable, take a break! Stay hydrated and keep a chair close by in case you need to sit down for a minute. And don’t forget to ask for help if you need it. Here’s to a healthy garden and pregnancy!