One of the great advantages we have as gardeners today is access to little plants that have been grown for us and are ready to plant.
Seedlings are available from garden centres and hardware stores, and slightly larger plants can even be delivered to your door when ordered direct.
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.
You will notice that seedling punnets are either individual cells – or they are all together in one block. Both are fine, but I wouldn’t purchase the block type if it looks like the plants are all growing together. For example, larger plants like Capsicum will outgrow their plastic punnet quite quickly, and 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.
Look for green leaves – avoid any punnets of seedlings that have yellow patches or white spots across the leaves. The yellowing can mean they have been in the shade too long, or are low on some key nutrients. The white patches can be a sign of mildew, which will not only weaken the seedlings themselves – this fungal disease can spread to other plants in your garden if left untreated.
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.
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 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!
Tips for success when planting out seedlings
Check the weather before you start – don’t plan on planting out when it is hot and or very windy. If there is a 3 day heatwave coming, you are better off leaving the seedlings inside and keeping them watered until the weather cools down.
It is best to plant in the early evening so that your little plants don’t dry out – they only have very tiny root systems.
Before you get started, place the punnet into a container of water to soak for an hour. This will help with separating the plants, and will reduce the transplant shock.
Make sure your soil is ready before you get the plants out, dig the area over and figure out what is going where.
To get seedlings out of the cell type punnets, pinch each cell in at the bottom and then push it up from the base – this should make the seedling plug pop out a bit at the top. Don’t be pulling on the stem to get it out, you will probably just rip it off and cause damage.
To separate plants in a block punnet, you kinda need to tease them apart, making sure that each individual plant comes out with it’s block of potting mix and roots.
In cooler months, use a snail & slug repellent around each plant – otherwise your plant babies will disappear overnight.
Water them in as soon as you have planted them, I keep a watering can close by – rather than waiting until I am finished and putting on the irrigation, I just water them in as I go. You can add half a capful of Seasol to your watering can, this product is a seaweed extract and soil conditioner that helps to reduce transplant shock.
- Biggest is not always 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
- Give them a soak before planting out
- Water in with a weak solution of Seasol
- Keep a note of which variety you have planted