What are the pros and cons of buying seedlings?

When starting up a commercial tree growing project, there are lots of decisions you have to make. The most difficult one is whether to buy seedlings or prepare the seedlings you need from scratch. Although I’ve experience with both, I may not tell you exactly which option to go by because you’ll need to consider many factors when choosing whether to buy or prepare seedlings. I have already covered some of the things I believe are most vital here. So, in today’s post, I will share the pros and cons of buying seedlings versus preparing seedlings. Without wasting time, let’s begin.


1. Timely planting –no delays

Buying seedlings will give you a significant head start on the season for the apparent reason that you get ready seedlings to transplant right at the onset of rains. This is a considerable advantage of purchasing ready-made seedlings; you don’t have to wait for the seedlings to mature because you’re going straight for mature transplants from an experienced and certified nursery operator. So, if you find yourself in a squeezed time-lime, let’s say your farm is ready and the rains have started pouring out, and you have no time remaining to prepare seedlings from scratch, think about buying ready seedlings as this will allow you to transplant on time.

2. You get easy planting.

If you’re the kind of a farmer who has to balance farming with other commitments, you’ll find buying seedlings the best option to give you easy planting. You won’t have to deal with activities like pre-transplanting tasks like watering, nurturing, and protection of the seedlings as a nursery operator does all these for you. Your work will be to transport the seedlings to your farm and plant them there. If you choose the right seeds and transplant them on time, you will not need to water them at all.

3. Buying seedlings saves you time, and sometimes, money.

Unlike preparing seedlings from scratch in a nursery, buying seedlings require less amount of work and takes less time. You don’t have to spend hours, days, weeks, and months managing a nursery from the time seeds are sown through the tubing time until the seedlings are ready for planting. Buying seedlings skips all these activities, saving you time and money. You can go straight to the transplanting stage.

4. Buying seedlings reduces the number of risks you’ve to take

Anyone with experience in nursery management will tell you that growing seedlings from scratch involves many risks. In my journey as a commercial tree grower, I’ve had to deal with a broad range of threats, including seeds failing to sprout, environmental threats, crop pests attacking sprouting seeds –often cutting off and eating up first leaves, seedlings dying due to disease, and harsh weather affecting growth. Some of these complications could cause total loss, but if you purchased ready seedlings, you could avoid them altogether.


1. The cost may be too high!

Seedlings are far much more expensive to buy than to raise from scratch. In my first blue gum project, I had about 2.5 ha of land on which I wanted to grow trees. With this size of land, I needed approximately 5500 seedlings. I visited a trusted dealer who was willing to offer me a seedling at KSH. 10 (roughly $1 per mature seedling). That means I needed about KSH. 55,000 (or $550) to purchase enough seedlings for my 2.5 ha project. However, if I prepared my own seedlings, the cost would be much lower; I bought seeds at KSH. 2,000, which when I sowed on a nursery, produced over 15,000 seedlings. That means for only KSH. 2,000, I managed to make almost three times the number of seedlings I wanted for my project. By simple math, I was able to reduce the cost of getting the seedlings by 99.96%! In short, if your budget is tight, raising seedlings is, no doubt, the cheapest and the ideal option for you.

2. Beware of poor-quality seedlings.

Buying seedlings come along with the risk of getting poor-quality seedlings. Imagine buying and planting over 5000 seedlings, then two years down the line, you realize the seedlings are not the right type for your particular environment. How would you feel? How much will you’ve lost by then? The risk is real and fantastic. So, be careful with your choice of a seedling seller. Try to find and buy seedlings from a satisfied nursery operator. What makes up quality seeds? This article by World Agroforestry explains some of the characteristics that make up good quality seedlings.

3. The threat of pests and diseases

Many upcoming farmers don’t realize that when buying seedlings and transporting them to your garden, you’re not just importing the seedlings along; you’re introducing new soil to your garden. The problem is that this soil may contain diseases and weeds, some of which may pose significant threats to your farm. A good nursery practice involves treating the soil prior to sowing seeds. However, as you know, recommended agribusiness practices are often ignored by unscrupulous nursery operators and this can work to your disadvantage as a farmer. That’s why I insist of doing a background-check prior to choosing where to buy seedlings for a commercial tree growing project.  

Key Takeaways

So, is buying seedlings a win for a farmer? That’s the big question. The answer will depend on your specific circumstances. Gardening is a big experiment, with the outcome being the result of so many conditions. The reality, however, is that using transplants or seedlings that are professionally grown can expand your opportunities for success. However, it requires a lot of care and, of cause, initial capital. 

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