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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.