What Are the Differences between Seeds and Seedlings?

Lee Johnson

The main difference between seeds and seedlings is that seeds are planted in the ground to grow new plants and seedlings are actually young plants, already sprouted from the seed. Generally, seeds are more suitable for planting inside, and seedlings can be easily planted either inside or outside. Seedlings require “hardening” before they are planted fully outside, which can be thought of as gradually introducing them to the harsh, outside world. Seeds, conversely, are best germinated to create seedlings by wrapping them in a moist paper towel, or in a seed tray indoors.

Seeds are planted in the ground, whereas seedlings are already sprouted from seed before planting.
Seeds are planted in the ground, whereas seedlings are already sprouted from seed before planting.

Gardeners ordinarily have no trouble distinguishing between seeds and seedlings, because they are wildly different in appearance due to the differing stages of their lives. Seeds are usually small and hard, often brown or black in color. Seedlings are small plants, usually made up of a single stem supporting a couple of small leaves. Essentially, seeds are the equivalent to the egg inside a woman’s womb and seedlings are equivalent to a developing fetus. While the ingredients within them are essentially the same, they are at a different stage of development.

Small seeds can be pre-soaked overnight in layers of wet paper towels.
Small seeds can be pre-soaked overnight in layers of wet paper towels.

The variations in caring for plants comes from the inherent differences between seeds and seedlings. For example, when growing a seed into a seedling, an indoor environment is preferable. This is because indoor growing provides the gardener with more control over the general environmental factors, such as temperature, moisture, and sunlight. Germinating seeds can be done by placing the seed in the center of a moist paper towel or by planting them in soil using a seed tray. Seeds require more care when germinating, because they are susceptible to damage by a variety of factors.

The places seeds and seedlings should be grown differs depending on many factors, but seedlings are generally better off outside. This gives them more access to sunlight and usually enables them to grow much larger. Before seedlings are transported outside forever, they need to go through a process known as hardening, which gradually introduces them to the outside world. This is done by taking the seedlings outside for a large portion of the day and bringing them in at night. Indoors, plants are much safer from environmental factors, so gradual introduction is required for a smooth transition.

One major difference between seeds and seedlings is that seeds benefit from being covered and seedlings are often hurt by it. This is because covering pots over keeps the soil moist and generally provides a humid environment, which is good for seeds. Humidity is the ideal breeding ground for various types of fungi and aphids, however, which can damage seedlings. Once sprouted, gardeners should remove the cover to give seedlings fresh air.

Seedlings have already sprouted.
Seedlings have already sprouted.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


@rundocuri- I think that the answer to your question will depend on the type of plants you decide to grow from seed. Plants like tomatoes and squash can be started this way, but it takes a lot of time for them to reach the size necessary to transplant them to the garden. I prefer to start with seedlings when it comes to those types of crops.


@rundocuri- If you have seeds, the time, and the space, growing a vegetable garden from seeds is affordable and rewarding. The problem that many gardeners who live in regions with short summers face is that many crops have to be planted before the risk of frost is over in order to have produce by harvest time.

If you live in this type of area and you want to plant seeds for the upcoming planting season, you will need a warm, sunny, indoor area and supplies to start your seeds. This could end up being just as costly as buying seedlings after the threat of frost has passed.


I plant a vegetable garden every year, and usually start my plants from seedlings that I get from my local nursery. To save money, this year I am thinking about planting my spring crop from seeds. Since I'm not use to planting this way, I'm looking for some tips to get started.

Post your comments
Forgot password?