Get Garden Seedling Savvy

By Barbara Pleasant

Now showing, in greenhouses and garden centers everywhere, beautiful seedlings and starts that quiver with an excitement that says, “Take me home!” You feel it from the moment you enter the greenhouse door and become enveloped in the sights and smells of vigorous growing plants.

Simply being amidst thousands of eager plants will brighten your day, and I make up excuses to go to my local greenhouse business, which lures me with its sign “We don’t use anything on our plants you wouldn’t use.” But I’ve learned to save room in my garden for late additions of organic seedlings from the farmers’ market too. Without some discipline, I would easily end up with what gardeners call a “driveway nursery”—plants purchased on impulse that get stuck in pots on the deck or driveway because they have nowhere to go.

A better plan is to fill out your garden with ready-to-grow seedlings and starts of veggies, herbs and flowers a little at a time. You won’t be as tempted to splurge on seedlings when you anticipate a return trip for your next planting project.

Veggie Seedling Savvy

Many of the most popular home-garden vegetables—including tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and squash—are easy to grow from purchased seedlings (a young plant raised from a seed). Choosing varieties is often confusing, but if a local greenhouse or farmers’ market vendor has a lot of a certain variety, it is probably because that variety has proven itself over and over again under local growing conditions. If you are not quite ready to plant your seedlings in garden beds or containers, take a few minutes to transplant them into slightly larger containers to give the roots room to grow. Keeping the babies outdoors, in a sunny place protected from brisk winds, helps prepare them for their future life in your garden too.

There are a few veggies sometimes sold as seedlings that are unworthy of adoption. Spinach, arugula and Chinese cabbage rush to flower in response to lengthening spring days; so by the time you set out the seedlings, the plants bolt and bloom and never grow large and leafy. Chard does not have this problem and also transplants easily, making it a most worthy garden green for the summer months.

Stocking Up on Herbs

Restocking my herb garden justifies several trips to the garden center; and yes, you are allowed to pinch and sniff a sample leaf as you choose kitchen herbs you will use constantly all summer. Herbs cost a little more than veggie seedlings because, except for a few annual herbs like dill, cilantro and basil, most culinary herbs are grown from rooted cuttings. Tropical herbs that must be overwintered in a greenhouse, like lemongrass, frequently cost a little more as well.

My mission is often to replace thyme, rosemary and sage lost to winter weather; but once you get to the herb aisle it’s important to keep an open mind, and maybe go overboard just a little. Herbs are easy to combine in small beds or roomy containers and have so much to offer in terms of flavor, aroma and health benefits that you will rarely regret bringing one home.

Have Fun with Flowers

Growing plenty of flowers attracts beneficial insects and beckons butterflies, so you can never go wrong adding easy annual flowers to your shopping list. Most annual flowers begin as very tiny seeds that take ten weeks or more to grow to transplanting size; so buying petunias, marigolds and other popular summer flowers in six packs is always a good deal.

Even if you intend to buy something very specific like nasturtiums to grow around your mailbox, take your time as you mingle among flats of flowers. Go down each row slowly, and let the plants inspire you with their colors, forms and fragrances. The springtime show of budding abundance won’t last long. Treasure it while it lasts, and then go back for more.

Award-winning garden writer Barbara Pleasant grows vegetables, herbs and fruits in her Floyd, VA, garden. Her website is

bpleasantBarbara Pleasant is not just an expert, she’s passionate about everything garden. She’s the author of four books, including Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens and is a contributing editor to Mother Earth News and the Herb Companion magazines. Her work has garnered her multiple awards.

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