When it comes to buying seedlings, there are a few key points to consider.
It is easy to get a bit carried away while selecting seedlings, gleefully filling your basket with punnets of lovely little plants – but by keeping a few things in mind we can make sure we get the best plants for our kitchen gardens.
What to look for when buying seedlings
Firstly, it is better to buy seedlings from a garden centre that has a wide range, and is a busy kinda place – this means that they are turning over their stock more often.
I prefer smaller plants, you can be fooled into thinking you will get a “head start” with the taller ones – but they don’t seem to transplant as well and can have weak stems. Tall plants with small root systems will be the first to flop over in warm weather, as the transpiration through the leaves will be high – but their ability to take up water will be limited.
Not all plants should be bought as seedlings, sadly production and retail nurseries insist on supplying us with products that are less than ideal – for example Zucchini, Sweet Corn, Cucumber, Beans and Peas really do better when grown from seed sown directly into your garden bed.
Check that there are indeed 6 or 8 little plants in the punnet, sometimes there is an empty cell. It is always good to get what you are paying for!
Consider where you are buying seedlings from
Seedlings are available from garden centres, hardware stores, supermarkets and variety stores like Big W and Kmart.
They are usually displayed on racks, which are either indoors or outdoors. I would avoid buying seedlings from indoor environments, as they are already struggling to grow in low light conditions and will be weaker.
Cells vs Blocks
That sounds like I am about to talk about prisons right? No, I am talking about the style of plastic punnet itself. I recommend that you purchase seedlings in individual cells, as this reduces root damage and therefore transplant shock when you remove them from the punnet.
Seedling planted in a block end up growing together, and you have to tease apart the root systems to separate out each plant. This is manageable with smaller seedlings, but as they get bigger the roots get all matted together. When it comes time to plant, untangling the mess can mean ripping and tearing the roots – which adds stress to the plant, and set them back for a few weeks.
Seedlings to avoid:
Carefully look over the seedling stock to get the best punnets (hint: the really good ones are often at the back). Selecting the best seedlings not only gives you a headstart in the kitchen garden, it is also helpful to avoid bringing unwanted pests or diseases back to your patch.
Don’t buy seedlings that are:
- Tall and skinny, with thin and exposed stems where they meet the soil
- Flowering – this is a sign of stress!
- Already showing signs of pest damage – such as holes in the leaves, or silvery slug tracks – make sure to look under the leaves too
- Yellowing leaves can indicate they have been in the shade too long, or are low on some key nutrients.
- Already infected with mildew – this mostly affects pumpkin, cucumber, and zucchinis – look for grey white patches on the leaves
- In punnets with plants missing – if there are empty cells, then put it back and look for another one
When you get home:
Water straight away and place in a shady sheltered spot, where they won’t get trodden on or forgotten.
If needs be, put a reminder in your phone or a sticky note on the fridge so you remember to water them the next morning.
You really shouldn’t plant them out straight away, see my post on Planting Out Seedlings for more on this.
- Biggest is not best, little plants with strong root systems will grow better
- Look for green leaves – yellowing leaves or white splotches mean you will bring problems home
- Not everything being sold is ready to plant or is appropriate to grow from seedlings
- Cells are better than blocks, unless the seedlings are still quite small
- Give them a soak when you get home and put them in a shady and sheltered spot