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What is Direct Seeding?

By J.S. Metzker Erdemir
Updated: Feb 01, 2024

Direct seeding is sowing seeds directly into the field or plot where they will be grown. In home gardening, direct seeding generally refers to sowing seeds in prepared beds instead of planting seedlings. In commercial agriculture and large-scale reforestation and restoration projects, direct seeding refers a sustainable approach to planting because it reduces the amount of tilling, machinery, and water needed.

Home gardeners and small-scale farmers often buy seedlings or start seedlings indoors or in greenhouses. In most cases, growing seedlings is done to extend the season and reduce plant loss as a result of pests and sudden spring frosts. Planting established seedlings also saves garden space because germination is complete, and the young plants are more able to withstand temperature changes and drought, so less area is lost to dead plants.

Farmers and gardeners generally direct seed crops such as corn, peas, potatoes, and beans because those plants don't take well to transplanting. Growers in warm climates might use direct seeding more frequently because there is less chance of a spring hard frost. Direct seeding reduces the amount of indoor space needed for seedlings, as well as the amount of work, water, and soil required to start plants from seed indoors.

In commercial agriculture, direct seeding is used to save time, money, fuel, and water. On a farm, direct seeding is most often used for growing hay and feed crops. In the fall or winter after the last harvest, the remaining plant matter is left in the soil, which reduces erosion, and retains moisture and nutrients in the soil. Leaving the soil un-tilled also helps maintain soil integrity and health, and reduces weeds by giving them less space to grow.

In the spring, seed is sown by hand or machine on top of the previous season's plant material. Fertilizer is often applied at the same time, in bands near the seed rows. Sowing is done with a minimum of soil disturbance because the beds are not prepared for the seeds, and only the small space of soil where the seeds are placed needs to be turned up.

Direct seeding is often preferable in reforestation and restoration projects because it eliminates the need for tree nurseries. Although the initial cost for seed can be high, the plants are often more successful because the soil is not disturbed much, which reduces weed competition, and the plants self-select for the strongest ones. Additionally, the plants' roots are not disturbed by transplanting, giving them deeper, stronger root systems before harsh weather sets in.

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Discussion Comments
By Raynbow — On Jan 15, 2015

@talentryto- I agree with you about planting tomatoes as seedlings in most cases, but if you do it the right way and have the space, you can plant them using a direct seeding method.

I help my father plant his vegetable garden each year, and he direct-seed plants tomatoes in a row. He first prepares the ground by tilling it and laying down gardening ground plastic. When tomatoes form on the plants, this prevents them from coming into direct contact with the ground. Finally, he spreads tomato seeds throughout the row and covers them loosely with tilled soil.

This method for planting tomatoes probably isn't worth it for people who don't use a lot of tomatoes during growing season. But for people who either make a lot of sauces and soups with tomatoes, or preserve them, this is an ideal planting method for growing a lot of tomatoes in a vegetable garden.

By Talentryto — On Jan 14, 2015

I plant a vegetable garden every year, and I prefer to use the direct seeding method for most of the vegetables I grow. Corn, peas, several types of beans, potatoes, and even squash all do very well when seeded directly.

I do still prefer to plant tomatoes and peppers as seedlings. Since these plants do best when they have space between them and they are cared for individually from the time they are small and young, I don't see any benefit seed-direct planting them. When a garden uses the direct seed technique for these types of crops, many of the plants that sprout have to be thinned out anyway. This seems like a waste of live plants to me.

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