What’s Better – Starting Seeds Indoors or Direct Sow?

Posted on Apr 23 2010 - 3:15am by Mike Lieberman

Now that I have my LA balcony garden started, I want to work on starting some seeds.

There are about 12 packets or so that I’d like to get started of lettuces, kale, beets, carrots, tomatoes and some herbs. Since the weather is warm here in LA, I’m wondering whether it will be better to direct sow the seeds into the containers or to still start them indoors?

I have accumulated toilet paper rolls, newspaper, plastic strawberry containers and some other things to use to start seeds indoors.

The past few nights it’s reached down into the 40s, but it’s mostly at least 50 degrees at night and 70s during the day. Which I would think to be warm enough temps to direct sow into the containers.

There is a lot of space for more self-watering containers on the balcony that I’d like to get planted in. For that reason I think that it’d be better to start the seeds indoors, so I can have veggies growing outside while the seeds are doing their thing indoors.

Then I can with succession planting or whatever it’s called when they are ready to be placed outside.

What’s your recommendation? Start the seeds indoors or direct sow into the containers?


21 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Justin J. Stewart April 23, 2010 at 5:29 pm -

    Hey Mike! Just started reading your blog, and I love it. Living in Detroit, then Phoenix, and now College Station, TX, I have been dabbling in urban gardening for sometime as well, but your are blowing the people away with what's I've seen on your website.
    Anyways, this is what I found was my problem when I moved here this year (to College Station). I started about 6 plants different plants inside, and learned that my apartment was not well lit, and ended up with a whole bunch of leggy sprouts. I tried planting them to see who would survive, and they are all still fighting hard and starting to turn around. If you have a grow light inside, or know that you have great lighting coming into your apartment (I thought I did, but not enough, and haven't figured out where in my apartment I can set up a grow light system for young plants), I would say do it inside. Funny enough though, I did also sow some seeds with the leggy sprouts that I planted (califlower, canolope, acorn squash and spinach), and those are now starting to sprout, here in Texas it has been around low 50s the past few weeks and getting up to 75-80 during the day. The front garden where I planted to leggy sprouts (and the new sprouts that I sowed), also is a East facing garden, so it only gets early morning light, so that might have helped the leggy sprouts survive. I will see in a few weeks how everything is doing because I am only into about day 18 with the front garden. With the Cilantro though, I would just sow that. I always just sow my herbs, I have never sprouted those inside (but someone else might have a different opinion, i've been doing all of this the past few years on the fly as well).
    Hope this helps at all. Once again keep up the good work! Love your blog it's nice to see someone in my demo doing the same stuff that I am doing. Keep it real and if you have any questions just ask!

  2. Meredith April 23, 2010 at 6:14 pm -

    I prefer to direct sow when possible, because I just think natural conditions give me better, healthier seedlings in general. That said, traditional wisdom says do *not* plant tomatoes outside until the soil is well-warmed up and nighttime temperatures do not sink below 50 degrees F. Eggplant and peppers don't like it chilly at night, either. So the short answer is: direct sow almost everything on your list but the tomatoes. And enjoy! 🙂

    p.s. I can't believe our temperatures are already higher than LA's!

  3. Mike Lieberman April 24, 2010 at 1:37 am -

    Wow thanks for all the info bro. I hear ya it's not about having the perfect garden or growing everything “by the book.” F all that. Just have fun, grow some food and learn. Thanks again for the info.

  4. Mike Lieberman April 24, 2010 at 1:39 am -

    Appreciate the advise Meredith. I think I'm gonna experiment and do a lil of both. If I had more space, I'd totally do it all outdoors. With my limited I want to be able to constantly have something close to edible.

  5. panyvinito April 24, 2010 at 4:12 am -

    I'm so glad you talked about this! I just started my own “balcony” garden and even though I'm in FL, the weather at night has been pretty cold. By I also live by the beach so I have to watch out for too much salt getting into my garden and soil… Anyways, I'm also trying both methods to see what works. I got peppers, hot peppers, herbs, a fig tree, two avocado trees, blueberry, and raspberry in direct sow and indoor I got two varieties of hot peppers and other herbs. So we'll see which method works better here in FL.

  6. Mike Lieberman April 24, 2010 at 5:22 am -

    Damned you got a balcony or farm down there? Mmmm….fig tree.

  7. mk April 25, 2010 at 6:42 am -

    I have been reading your blogs and appreciate what you did in NY. The benefit of moving to LA is that now you will have a year-round garden because the nice summer/moderate winter 🙂
    Tomato, eggplants, peppers are always better with seed started indoors, just make sure that they get good light (either from window) or artificial lights in order to be healthy. In couple of weeks they will be ready to be planted outdoors. Cucumbers, beans, pumpkins/squash (and peas in fall) are good when direct-sowed. You can do that in couple of weeks too. Your balcony looks very sunny. You can also direct sow radish, salad, carrot and beets year-round there. Good luck and have fun !!
    -a gardener in Northern CA

  8. Mike Lieberman April 25, 2010 at 9:32 pm -

    Thanks for all the advice. I'm most certainly having fun with this.

  9. Sketchkat06 April 26, 2010 at 2:58 am -

    Direct sow will work fine out here even though the weather has been funky the last couple years. I start my seeds indoors because I'm not patient enough to let the container sit looking empty 😀

  10. Mike Lieberman April 26, 2010 at 3:22 am -

    I hear ya on that. I don't think that I'm patient enough either.

  11. Justin J. Stewart April 26, 2010 at 6:42 pm -

    I hear that! Sorry it was so long, it just happened that I just recently ran into the same problem! Especially living in a new place and all as well. Hope it helped a little. Just read back to an old post where you were discussing Biggie and Pac, and sorry to butt in late, but Wu-Tang Clan ain't nuttin' to F wit! Just my 2 cents!

  12. Mike Lieberman April 26, 2010 at 7:57 pm -

    No worries man. I can def get down with some Wu.

  13. Sketchkat06 April 28, 2010 at 6:21 pm -

    I just realized what your containers need – color! hmm…you could make a sweet pattern w some of the colored duct-tape at Michael's…

  14. Mike Lieberman April 28, 2010 at 8:37 pm -

    Anita, my girl, painted the one with the heart and the flower. Want to get her to paint the others as well.

  15. Manure Tea Gardening May 26, 2011 at 8:33 pm -

    both ways work, the best part about it is that we get sowing one way or the other : ) Love your posts Mike

  16. Mike Lieberman May 27, 2011 at 3:20 am -

    Thanks Annie.

  17. Kathy Tedford January 22, 2012 at 4:02 pm -

    you are going to be okay in your climate. I think the only thing I would plant inside to start out with is the tomatoes. I love reading your posts. Kind of jealous tho, of your weather. It is dumping snow here where I live at the moment. 

  18. Mike Lieberman January 22, 2012 at 6:08 pm -

    Thanks for the info.

  19. frugalgardener May 24, 2012 at 7:29 pm -

    I guess it depends on how much of a head start you need/want and on the plant itself. I’ve heard that cucumbers, for example, don’t like being transplanted and are best sowed directly in their growing container. Eggplants, according to my seed package, need to be started inside 8-10 weeks before transplanting.  With the say your containers are lined up, you should check into making one of Larry Hall’s self-watering rain gutter grow systems. You use only one reservoir and one bucket (instead of 2 for each container) for the system. 😉

  20. frugalgardener May 24, 2012 at 7:30 pm -

     …with the way* your containers are lined up…

  21. John Stanley June 10, 2014 at 9:01 am -

    I’m wondering the same thing. I have been having a lot of success this year staring more indoors. Some of the things I have direct sowed got eaten by little critters before they could thrive. I have the global buckets too and feel the same way about waiting for them to sprout. It seems that some things sprout faster indoors than in the buckets outside. Maybe it gets too hot outside. Some of those little seedlings are so fragile if you don’t keep the soil constantly moist they dry up on a hot day.

    By the way, I love how your daughter decorated your bucket. I should have my daughter do the same thing to mine. They are currently covered in burlap. I also like the previous poster’s idea of using that colored duct tape. Great idea!

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