While I’m not exactly a die-hard do-it-yourselfer, I am an independent soul. There are plenty of things I know how to do but choose to pay for because of time constraints. Sewing, for example – I can make a tee shirt, but I can also spend two or three bucks, get a used one at the Salvation Army store and save myself several hours of work. It makes much better sense to buy my jeans, for similar reasons, although I’m so hard on them that I buy new, top-quality jeans (on sale, of course) and wear them until they fall apart. When it comes to transplants, however, I really think the labor and time of growing my own are well worth it. The advantages to transplants are many:
You choose the varieties. Garden centers are finally getting on the heirloom wagon, which is great. What’s not so great is that in a lot of cases, their offerings are limited. If, as I do, you garden in a zone different than that of the local garden center, their transplants may not be as suitable for your zone. Garden centers only offer what sells well; your favorite but little-known variety probably won’t make it on their list.
You manage the timing. Unless you happen to be lucky enough to catch the transplants at the garden center in just the right stage of growth, the odds are high they will be overdeveloped by the time you get them in the ground. They don’t take transplanting as well and may fruit prematurely or quit blossoming for a while.
You spend less money. It’s a no-brainer – about one or two cents per seed or a couple of dollars and up for a transplant. Even if you only have a 30% germination rate, you still save a bundle.
You can practice succession planting. Garden centers are like clothing stores. They offer what’s in season at the moment, then quickly clear off the racks to get ready for the next season. It’s highly unlikely that you can go down to the garden center six weeks after they first start to offer tomatoes and pick up some transplants to put in another later crop. If you can find anything at all, the plants are likely to be post-mature and suffering from various diseases or nutrient deficiencies.
You can grow them correctly. While I am not trying to put down the efforts of the folks who work in garden centers, they are often inadequately trained or have conflicting duties that get in the way of caring for potted seedlings. You can give your transplants your full attention and you’ll gain expertise with every batch you grow.
So that’s why I grow my own.