Should you buy tomato plants or grow from seeds? There are some good arguments both ways, and I sometimes do both. Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Buying Tomato Plants
- First, how do the plants look? Are they rangey and tall, shorter and bushier or somewhere in between? The taller rangey plants are not as desirable as the stockier plants. The taller plants may have been fed a bunch of fertilizer, or haven’t been given enough sunlight, producing the rangey growth.
- Can you see any roots showing at the bottom or sides of the pot? If so, the plant is very likely rootbound and will have trouble getting started in your garden.
Also be careful of the following when buying tomato plants:
- Do not, no matter how tempting, buy plants that already have open blossoms or tomatoes. These plants will be shocked moving into your garden and very likely will have setbacks (take it from someone who knows).
- Check the plant to make sure there are no insects or any spots on the leaves.
- If the plants come with little removable plant labels, you may (or may not) get the variety that you’re expecting. Charles Wilber tells a story about thinking he was buying Better Boy plants (beefsteak tomatoes) and ended up with cherry tomatoes — someone had either mislabeled or switched labels. (However, with those cherry tomatoes, he captured a Guinness world record for the largest tomato plant, so all ended well.)
The main advantage to buying tomato plants is that the early work is already done. If you decide late in the season that you want to grow tomatoes, there may not be time to start from seeds — and the plants fill in nicely. Also, some people don’t want to be bothered with starting seeds. These are cases where buying tomato plants works well.
Planting Tomato Seeds
Planting tomato seeds gives you the most variety and control over your tomatoes. In general, tomato plants are available in maybe a dozen varieties. Tomato seeds, on the other hand, have thousands of varieties from which to choose!
Sometimes you’ll find heirloom tomatoes as plants (I found Tigerella at the local Home Depot garden shop), but most plants available are hybrids. I do find a lot of places carry the heirloom Cherokee Purple these days, though.
If you want to take a chance of getting something unusual, you can try ebay. I have found seeds there of varieties that I could find nowhere else. But remember, I did say “take a chance”? You may (or may not) get what you’re expecting. Still, I like it because of the thrill of the hunt — and I have gotten some great tomato seeds!
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However, I often also get tomato seeds on Amazon. Yes, I am eclectic in my purchases!
The biggest disadvantage of planting your own tomato seeds is that you have to do it well before the time you need to put them out in the garden — in general, 4 to 6 weeks ahead. Also, you need to have a warm dark place to germinate the seeds, then some place to put them where they will get adequate light after they’ve germinated.
I tend to germinate far more seeds than I do buy tomato plants, partly because there isn’t enough of a variety available locally for the plants. I also like to grow organically as possible, and it’s highly likely that store-bought tomato plants will have been fertilized chemically. On the other hand…sometimes a plant just calls out to me and begs to be taken home!