It’s that time of year for flower farmers to answer the question: plugs or seeds?
If you’ve already invested in grow lights, pads, pots, and soil, and if you already have the expertise to plant, irrigate and monitor tens or scores of species of flowers, no doubt you’ve already answered that question. If you haven’t, let us talk about it.
Successful germination is risky and so much is riding on your success or failure. From the outside it looks so simple, plant some seeds, water them, tend them and voila—plants! But you need to seriously consider the entire process which is much more complicated.
Some of the first things to decide and then start investing in are choosing a soil mix, using seedling trays or soil blocking. One of the most important decisions is seed sources, not all seeds are created equal. Don’t rely on pretty packaging and killer photos, buy seed from a reputable source. (We bought sweet pea seeds from a very popular website but had very poor germination which resulted in a very substantial loss in sales and disappointed our clients who have relied on our sweet peas for years.)
Flower seeds come in all shapes and sizes and so can be planted too deep or too shallow. Watering is a huge issue and every seedling requires specific watering and fertilizing needs. Temperature is another factor and again various seedlings have various needs, what is too cool for one may be to hot for another. Another major variable is light, artificial light or natural light? What happens if you plant under natural light and have two weeks of overcast cloudy days? This too has an effect on the strength and vigor of your crop.
Many years ago at an ASCFG conference a brilliant woman and expert farmer spoke about germination. Early in her presentation she stressed that if you are willing to be a slave to your seedlings, tending, watering and hovering EVERY day, multiple times a day for 8 to 12 weeks (more for some species, particularly perennials) watering them correctly, see every appearance of fungus or insect, then by all means germinate. But if not, take the stress and uncertainty out of your life and buy plugs!
Anything you can do, you can do right or you can do wrong, and at every such fork in the road, there’s a possibility of making mistakes. If you buy plugs from a reputable source, they too can make mistakes, just like you, but you’ll find that they don’t make many—that’s how they stay in business, by being reputable and consistent.
Cost Comparison Seeds vs Plugs
Trays or blocks
Fungus & insect control
*Labor. What is your time worth? A flat of 200 plugs may cost as little as twenty dollars, perhaps as much as three times that for perennials. If you were to grow those by yourself, what would you be paying yourself for your time, spread across eighty plus days? I’m willing to bet its way below minimum wage.
If you love growing your own, don’t let us discourage you, as that’s a profit we can’t measure. If you’re growing something that’s unavailable and you just have to have, by all means continue to do so. But if you are new to growing we implore you to limit the points of possible mistakes you can make while planting, irrigating, and waiting—don’t worry about buying seeds, soil, containers, grow lights; don’t fret about whether you watered this morning or not, or if you left a vent open or a light off; buy plugs, eliminate some stress and eliminate some costs.
And gain some profit.