Seeds, plants or transplants: Herb Garden Economics
Oh what joy I feel when I leave work and there was still daylight. That can only mean one thing: Spring is almost here! Having lived in Mexico, Texas, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and now Boston the transitions of the seasons are more pronounced as I travel north.
While the calendar has spring starting on 20th of March, the last frost date is the key milestone for the gardener and comes to us on different dates (see map). Starting in January I receive 1 to 2 seed catalogs a week. All with beautiful color-glossy photos of perfect garden crops tempt me to fill so many virtual shopping carts as I dream glorious plans for my little plot of land (1/4 acre). If I were to plant all of my selections I would need 5 acres, minimum, annually. That is not practical or economical; hence my many abandoned shopping carts.
There are several things to consider before you start ordering tons of seed packets, that can get pricey. If you are building an herb garden or planning to interplant herbs among your summer vegetables and annuals, here are some things to consider before making your final selection of plants:
What plants do you want to grow? What is their growth habit?
What type of soil do you have? Can the herb grow in my soil or containers?
Should my herbs be started from seed or purchase plants?
Where can I get an herb seeds or plants? Who do I know with this plant?
In each of my homes I have installed herb and vegetable gardens. Each time is a new experience and there is no guarantee of success. My approach is to plant many herbs with the expectation that I will need to transplant if they proliferate. There are only a few herbs that I grow from seed; mostly I purchase plants or get transplants from fellow gardeners. As for success with seed germination, my experience is that the smaller the seed, the more challenging the germination. Many herb seed packets contain between 50 and 200 seeds, even with 50% success rate, that would be way too many plants for the average garden. If you are very good at growing seedlings you may be able to sell your extra sprouts.
Even if you go the purchase plants route, there are lots of sources of plants. Keep a look-out for newspaper postings, Meet-up groups and Facebook posts for swap events. There are many community seed and plant exchanges that are gardeners ‘gold mines’. Helpful organic gardening instructions can be found on many web sites, Rodale Institute is a leader in this.
My herb garden is primarily culinary herbs and most originate in Mediterranean climates so they are not cold hardy, want as much sun as they can get in a day and well-drained soil. Therefore, with the short summers in the north, it is best if I either start plants from seed indoors or purchase seedlings or established plants from the nursery. In the table below, those herbs listed as ‘Successful’ do just fine directly sown in soil after last frost date. Direct planting of these seeds is the most economical sourcing in this category.
Herbs listed in the "Moderate" column are ones that I have had limited success from seed; these have long gestation periods or require cold snap to germinate. I am always delighted when they come up. Purchasing seeds for the herbs listed in this category are can be a gamble; you win big when the come up.
The most fun is when you find a kindred gardening spirit with whom you can share transplants. Herbs listed in this column tend to self-seed (volunteers) or proliferate by runners. These need to be thinned out on occasion and are a great way to share herbs.
There are more and more reputable merchants of heirloom, culinary and medicinal herb seeds and plants. I tend to buy from are Johnny's Seeds, Botanical Interests, Gardens Alive, Lake Valley, Burpee, Strickly Medicinals, Horizon Herbs and Mountain Rose Herbs.
1. Look up 1st and last Frost Dates https://morningchores.com/frost-dates/
2. Garden Plans templates https://www.mygardenlife.com/garden-plus/garden-planting-schedule
3. Rodale Institute, https://rodaleinstitute.org/