Should You Buy Seedlings or Prepare Your Own Seedlings? Here are Some Factors to Consider

So, you’ve discovered that money grows on trees and you’re set to join the family of investors making money from a commercial tree growing? You’re now at the point of deciding whether to buy seeds to prepare your own seedlings or go straight for ready seedlings from a certified nursery dealer? Well, if you found yourself in this dilemma, this blog post is for you. Read on to discover what factors you should consider when deciding whether to buy or prepare your own seedlings.

What to think about

#1: Skills

When it comes to choosing between buying ready seedlings and preparing your own seedlings, you must first evaluate your skillset to see what you know and what you don’t know because this will help you to weigh options based on what you can do better. Let’s assume you’re well informed on seed selection and sowing as well as nursery operation and management activities,. In this case, starting from scratch with seeds might be your best bet. You may, however, find making your own seedlings extremely challenging if you lack the right skills to do so. It is also worth noting that seedling production comes with a lot of obstacles. Therefore, you should know what it takes to succeed with this approach.

Nonetheless, I must also say that the lack of skills should not be a barrier to you if you’re ready for and open to learning. When I started this blog, I knew very little about a commercial tree growing. In fact, I knew nothing about seed sowing and nursery management and operation when I first started my first commercial tree planting project. With persistence and dedication to learning, however, I managed to acquire the right skillset. I am now able to do everything am doing both on this blog and in my firm. The point is this: no one was born knowing everything. Knowledge is a product of learning. So, my advice is simple, be ready to learn.

#2: Time

You may have the skills, but lacks the time to work on your nursery. Let me put it straight that operating a nursery requires a lot of dedication and time. For example, once you sow the seeds, you’ll need to be present to monitor, water them regularly, and control pests and diseases. Depending on the scale of the project, nursery operation and management can be such a committing job. I have to spend 8-12 hours a day in my nursery working on seedlings. I find it possible because that’s my full-time job.

But what if you’ve to attend a different job? What options are available for you? Hire a skilled person to do the nursery job on your behalf while you attend to your day-to-day work. However, if you’ve to go with this option, make sure you have a staff roster and delegate duties properly.

As I mentioned early, seedling production involves a lot of work. Therefore, while the results may justify the expenses, be watchful of your operation costs because, in the long run, your total expenses might exceed what you would have to spend if you bought ready seedlings!

#3: The type of seedlings

One lesson I’ve learned over time is that preparing some types of seedlings is such a difficult task that demands a lot of time. Take, for instance, the Eucalyptus Grandis or the blue gum tree. For this plant, the seeds are very easy to grow, and managing the nursery is not such a hard job. Bluegum seeds also have a high germination potential. This means that as long as you sow the right seeds on well-prepared soil and water them properly, you’ll begin to see them come out of the soil within 2-3 weeks.

Now, consider cypress. Like blue gum, cypress seeds are very easy to collect from the cones. However, it’s hard to get seedlings from cypress seeds. For one, unlike blue gum seeds, cypress seeds take quite a long time (typically 30-90 days!) to come out of the soil. Worse, they have very low germination potential.

Because of the challenges linked to dealing with particular types of seedlings, starting a nursery can be a difficult job especially if you don’t have the skills to handle the obstacles.

#4. Environment

When I talk about the environment, I mean climate, weather, soil, and things like that. Before you start a nursery, you need to consider the characteristic of your selected environment versus the conditions the seedlings demand. I will give you an example from my personal experience.

I have a 6-acre piece of land located in an area with a climate that is extremely ideal for the growth of Eucalyptus Grandis. However, when I finally decided to transform my parcel of land into a multi-million property with blue gum, I noticed that I needed to situate a nursery elsewhere rather than in the garden itself. That’s because, within my garden, the soil is unideal for seedlings to grow.

Even though seedlings would do perfect once transplanted, extremely young ones in a nursery would struggle due to the frequent cracking of topsoil. Also, there is frequent flooding in my garden. In addition to the presence of a lot of small insects and other microorganisms, which would feed on the seedlings once they begin coming out of the soil, the chances of getting good results were minimal.

Of cause, your situation may be different, but you must be careful with your choices when it comes to locating a nursery because the environment has a huge impact on the seedling performance. Note that most seedlings require a more gentle microclimate to grow than older plants. An area with extremely hot sun and strong winds may not be conducive for most seedlings. Therefore, consider essential environmental factors before you undertake to grow rather than buy seedlings. You may want to check this article for more information on site selection.

There are ways you can create an environment that is ideal for the particular seedlings you want to work with. For instance, if bad soil is the main challenge in your garden, you can buy nursery soil. Here is a useful resource for information on what makes a good nursery soil.

#5. Resources

By resources, am referring to things like finances, water, and manpower. The amount of resources you need to use varies depending on which path you choose to follow –preparing your own seedlings versus buying ready-made transplants from a nursery dealer. Of cause, buying seedlings is most expensive when you have to do it all at once.

As an example, here in Kenya, the cost of eucalyptus seedlings ranges from KSH. 10-30 (approximately $0.1 to 0.3). Assuming you have 1 acre of land (an acre is about 4,000 sq. meters) and you choose 1.5 x 1.5 m spacing, you’ll need about 1,800 seedlings. This means you’ll budget for 2,000 seedlings (the extra 200 seedlings are for replacement in the event that some seedlings die or just fail to do well). Let’s take the case when a single seedling goes for KSH. 15. By simple math, it will cost you KSH. 30,000 to buy seedlings. Adding this to other expenses such as labor and transport, you’ll spend somewhere between KSH. 60,000 to 80,000. By contrast, seeds don’t cost much. I spent about KSH. 2,000 to buy blue gum seeds from which I prepared my own seedlings.

Either way, you need to have finances in place. However, I find buying and sowing seeds a cheaper option in terms of the initial investment.

#6. Timing

Timing is important in gardening, and with seeds, you get to choose when you start. If your farm is ready and the planting season is near, you may not have enough time to grow your own seedlings. In this case, you may want to find ready seedlings to make sure you plant on time –at the onset of the rainy season.

#7. Availability

The decision is also determined by what is available for you –whether it is seedlings or seeds. If you can get seedlings at a reasonable price and you’re sure that buying and transporting them will cost you less, then I strongly recommend that you consider buying. You can always get good deals just near you. For instance, in my first project, I made a deal with a guy who had a nursery with ready Eucalyptus Grandis seedlings and was looking for a customer to sell to. I bought the entire nursery (with over 20k seedlings) for just KSH. 5,000. That was a fantastic deal indeed. I was able to transplant on time and even had excess seedlings to sell to other people.


Now, to make a sound decision on whether to purchase seeds or seedlings, we first need to know what you really need to consider. In other words, we’ve got to answer this question: what factors should I –as a commercial tree grower –consider when deciding whether to buy seedlings from a nursery operator or prepare my own seedlings from scratch? Of cause, the truth is that both options have their own merits and demerits. The decision about which way to go by will depend on your particular situation and needs. For those of us who are still stuck, you may want to learn the pros and cons of buying seedlings versus producing them for your project. Check my next blog post.


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