Thursday, May 3, 2012

Seedling Season

It’s time to buy seedlings. I try to grow most of my seedlings from seed, but as I’ve written it’s been an especially trying year for me. So I’ll be heading out to nab a few baby plants for my garden in the next few weeks. I aim to plant tomatoes/peppers around Mother’s Day. I know some people plant much earlier, but I can’t deal with the late night panic when an unexpected frost descends. I’m fundamentally a lazy gardener and rounding up row covers is just too much work.

As you head out to pick your seedlings, here are a few tips:

  1. Look for the healthiest plant possible. Rich, green color and stocky stems are always a good sign. Avoid the plants with yellow leaves, this means they’ve been subjected to a dry spell or sub-par nutrients. You don’t want the tallest plant either, leggy plants might have been looking for more light or been hopped up on too much fertilizer.
  2. Avoid plants that have obvious insect or fungal damage – chewed on leaves, funny spots. You don’t want to bring home the blight!
  3. Don’t buy from places that have miniature plants – meaning you don’t want a teeny-tiny plant with big flowers or fruit already starting. It’s not natural for them to be flowering so soon and could mean they’ve been artificially induced to do this (to make them more attractive) or they’ve been stressed out by too little water and sent out their fruit early.
  4. Buy the largest plant you can – not by plant size, but by root size. The plants in the bigger pots most likely have bigger root development and won’t have as much ground to make up when you plug them in. Those six packs of bitty little peppers for a buck-fifty are cheap for a reason. They’ll be way behind your other plants and may never catch up.
 Plan to make your purchases when there is time to plant. I tend to buy on whim and have several containers of plants waiting to be planted sitting on my porch on any given week. That’s not a good way to operate. The sooner you get them in the ground, the better chance they have.

The best day to plant is a cloudy day, or at least in the evening to avoid shocking your babies with the bright, blistering sun. And be sure to water well for the first few weeks to help them establish themselves and sink their roots down deep so they can survive.

Dig a hole big enough to sink your seedling up to its neck. It should be a few inches deeper in the ground than it was in the pot. Even if you cover a few leaves, you’ll just be giving it stronger roots. If you pull your new plant out of it’s container and the roots are in a tight, tight knot, wiggle them loose, or even break off some if necessary, so that you can spread the roots out in the hole.

I like to work a little compost in to the soil in the bottom of my hole. This gives the new plant a little fertilizer to get it going. And when I inevitably forget to water it, it still has something to keep it going.

Be sure to mark your seedlings well. You may think you’ll remember what type of plant you put where, but you won’t. Trust me on this. It also keeps helpful children from pulling out your new plant in their efforts to help you weed. Have fun with labeling, too. You don’t have to write exactly what’s on the plant label. You can call the plants anything you want!

Buying seedlings always feels like cheating to me. But the new plants I bring home are typically more exotic and exciting than what I’ve got growing under my lights and that makes it fun. Every year I try to pick out something I’ve never grown before – eucalyptus, peanuts, and last year we planted a kiwi fruit (it survived the winter – imagine!). Happy shopping!

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