The reality is though, we’re often busy and don’t always have the time, knowledge or space to raise plants from seed. If you DO buy seedlings, how can you avoid wasting money on unhealthy ones or those that are destined prematurely for the compost?
I’ve made my fair share of mistakes and been seriously cheesed off after ending up with ‘dried arrangements’ not long after planting what appeared to be ‘healthy’ new seedlings!
I figure ‘failures’ are just learning opportunities! So over time, I’ve done some digging to find out what contributed to my unplanned compost additions. I hope sharing my experiences will help you avoid ‘dried arrangements’ at your place …
If you’ve done your dollar a few times, check out these tips for selecting the best seedlings and find out how to get the best buys!
Twelve Tips for Buying the Best Seedlings
1. Avoid the biggest and tallest
Whilst it’s tempting to choose the tallest seedling on display, it’s not always the best choice. These may have been competing for light in the growing conditions and are more likely to be spindly or punnet bound.
2. Look at the roots
A poor root system will produce a weak plant so checking the condition of the roots pre-purchase is an insurance policy.
You should be able to be remove them easily in one piece without potting soil falling away and the roots should almost fill the pot or container with loose, white, fibrous growth.
Why waste your money? I suggest you avoid plants with these symptoms as they have a higher chance of failure and are bad buys:
- brown roots (they’re dead!);
- potting mix falling away from small, under-developed roots (the root ball should hold the potting mix in a solid mass – if not, the plant is too immature);
- solid mass of tangled roots (a sure indication the plant is ‘pot bound’ and has been in the container too long! Especially avoid pots that are cracking or splitting as the roots try to escape out the sides);
- roots protruding out the bottom of the drainage holes (also indicate they are ‘pot bound’ especially if they have started to grow into the soil underneath).
3. Check the foliage
Leaves should be a consistent strong solid colour (usually green but not always)!
If the colour is pale or has mottled patterns in it, the plant is likely to be nutrient deficient and has not been well cared for.
4. Read the label
This will tell you about the plant qualities and characteristics.
Tip 1: Choose open-pollinated, heirloom or heritage varieties of edibles where possible as these have greater vigour and disease resistance.
Tip 2: Measure your garden bed or container. Then check the mature size of the plant and recommended spacing on the label before purchase so you avoid overbuying and unnecessary overcrowding!
5. Multi-plant cells
Some punnets have more than one seedling per cell so inspect closely!
6. Soil moisture
If the potting mix is too wet or too dry, the seedlings may be stressed. ‘Just moist’ is ideal.
7. Clean potting mix
Avoid pots or punnets with moss or algae growing on the surface – this is a sure clue they are old stock!
8. Ask questions
I always ask: ‘Are the seedlings sun-hardened?’ (If they’ve been grown in a shade house they will need to be acclimatised gradually before moving to full sun). ‘Have they been chemically treated?’
Tip: Visit a nursery mid-week instead of on busy weekends – staff will have more time to answer your queries and provide you with growing information about the plants.
9. Fresh is best
Check out local nurseries, community gardens, garden clubs, garden centres and growers that sell higher volumes and turn over stock regularly. You can also get fresh stock at regular plant markets.
10. Buy from wholesale nurseries
Wholesalers often offer good value as many grow direct for bigger retailers or clients and have a wider range of quality stock with cheaper prices due to bulk volume.
11. Buds not flowers
Select flower seedlings or small potted plants in bud rather than already flowering – you’ll get to enjoy them for longer!
12. Check for hitchhikers
Look carefully on the underside of leaves – a favourite hiding place for common garden pests like scale, white fly, aphids and mealy bug.
Hope this helps you get the best buys, avoid the mistakes I made to start with healthy plants in your garden! Check out the Tips & Tricks category for more articles.
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© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2010-2013 – http://www.themicrogardener.com. All rights reserved.