Starting Herbs from Seed: Direct Seeding Versus Planting in Trays
Planting seeds directly in the garden has some obvious advantages, notably the absence of resources and energy necessary in seed tray culture. It is the easiest choice, and for those plants who do not tolerate transplanting, it is the only choice. The downside to direct seeding is the higher attrition rates with tender seedlings left to fend for themselves in the face of frost, plant-on-plant competition, herbivory, drought, and disease. However, the plants who do survive and reproduce will have offspring selected for their parents’ tenacity and vitality.
Some herbs that generally have good survival rates with direct seeding are:
- Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
- Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
- Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum)
- Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)
- German chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
- Borage (Borago officinalis)
- Garden sage (Salvia officinalis)
- Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
- Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea, E. angustifolia)
- Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
Many herbs also need a period of moist cold before they will germinate in the garden—in the same fashion that many wild plants only germinate in the warm soils of spring after a cold, dormant period throughout the winter. These herbs may need to be planted in very early spring or in the fall to ensure a proper period of cold. You’ll want to briefly research each herb before planting—often, adequate planting instructions will come right on the seed packet.
For woodland perennial herbs with a two- to three-year germination period, planting directly in a prepared forest seedbed may be easier than keeping track of a seed tray for such a prolonged period.
In addition, the following plants are typically seeded directly because of their dislike of transplanting, or because of the larger plantings inherent for cover crops:
- Milky oats (Avena sativa)
- California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
- Opium poppy (Papaver somniferum)
- Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)
- Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
- Khella (Ammi visnaga)
- Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
- Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)
- Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)
I am somewhat of a control freak, so I rarely seed directly (except for the aforementioned herbs) and prefer to watch over my babes more closely in a greenhouse.
Herbal Medicine: Open Access Journal is a peer-reviewed, Open Access journal that publishes original research articles, review articles, case studies, case reports, and editorials/short communications with major emphasis on herbs and plant medicine.