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Buying seedlings – a guide for success

If you’ve ever found yourself standing at your local garden centre gazing upon rows of seedlings, feeling overwhelmed and not knowing what to buy – this short comprehensive guide is for you.

Bigger Doesn't = Better

With any seedling – vegetable or flower – bigger isn’t always better. It may be tempting to buy a larger seedling with the thought that you’ll be that much closer to a harvest but that isn’t necessarily true. If a large seedling is in a tiny container, it might mean future trouble. Large, tall, woody, or tough looking seedlings might have only been grown in that one container which means it could be root-bound and stunted in its growth. Look for a seedling that is proportionate to the size of its container.


Any discoloration, especially yellowing can mean it might be lacking nutrition, have been overwater or is carrying a disease. Look for seedlings that are bright green.


Look closely on the stem, in the soil and the underside of the leaves. These are the places little pests will live. Is there anything wiggly or crawling? If you bring home one seedling that is sick, you run the risk of infesting your whole garden. Not fun.

Let Them Call Your Name!

Most importantly (and this goes with buying new houseplants too) select the one that speaks to you. Garden centres try their very best to bring in healthy, young, fresh, tender seedlings – so all of the above, hopefully, won’t apply when you go to buy. So if you’re standing with an armful of seedlings that all look the same – pick the one that catches your eye and stands out to you. (This is often an indescribable reason! Go with it!).


At the garden centre, do a quick search on your phone to look up “dates to harvest” or “days to maturity” of the variety you’d like. There are so many different varieties of vegetables so you have to do a little bit of research to know what is best for you and your garden. The amount of sunlight that your garden sees on a daily basis could and should impact your decisions on what to grow. Take tomatoes for example. If you get more than eight hours of sunlight during the day, you can grow a larger variety of tomato “Brandywine” variety which is categorized as a “beefsteak.” If you get only five or six hours of sun, however, a smaller tomato like a “Sungold” which is categorized as a “cherry” tomato will be more successful. A little bit of research and careful observation of your growing space will go a long way for the future success of your garden.

A Special Note on Tomatoes

This is similar to the “Bigger Doesn’t = Better” note. Try not to buy seedlings that look “leggy” or in other words, have been reaching for the sun or light and look stretched out. You can get away with purchasing leggy tomato seedlings because the best planting practice for tomatoes is to bury them 2⁄3 under the ground. Tomatoes are really forgiving! But with tomatoes, if you have the option between plants that are straight or plants that are crooked or growing zig-zagged, choose the straight one!
Above all, never be hard on yourself if something doesn’t grow well. Gather as much information as you can about what happened and try again next season!
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