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How to spot a healthy vegetable seedling

by Alice Warner |

August 23, 2017

At this time of year, we are planting many seeds into seedling trays and jiffy pots to prepare for the excellent opportunity the warm weather provides for growing. You may also be starting to think about your home garden and purchasing seedlings yourself. So how do you know which seedlings to buy? There are a few key points to keep in mind when buying a vegetable seedling that you want to eventually provide you with a meal.

First of all, ask yourself if the seedling is in season. Should you be planting it now? Just because it is for sale does not mean it is the ideal time to plant it and expect a good harvest. Tomato plants for sale in May will not reach maturity, stay healthy and produce a worthwhile harvest before the cold weather comes. Likewise, planting cauliflower in Spring is a waste of everyone’s time unless you live in a very cold climate.

The second thing to look for is the general health of a seedling. With larger ornamental plants and even fruit trees a neglected specimen can be bought at a discount and nursed back to health. However, I wouldn’t recommend this with annual vegetable seedlings. These smaller plants need to fulfil their whole life cycle in just a few short months and if the first month is spent struggling to survive the stressed plant will never fully recover. Many times, a sad yellowing cabbage seedling is planted only to grow for a month and then shoot straight to flower without forming a head at all. Look for seedlings that are not leggy, have even-coloured leaves with no veins showing and have no sign of chewing or sucking insects or disease.

Lastly check the general state of the nursery and the seedlings themselves. If the tray or pot is dry when you feel the soil avoid buying the seedling. A nursery that doesn’t keep their veggie seedlings well-watered probably isn’t feeding them or looking after them very well either. The best seedlings get weekly diluted liquid feeds to get them through their time in such a small patch of soil. How do the other plants around the veggie seedlings look? Have things been in their pots a long time? Are the other veggie seedlings past a stage of development you would expect in a punnet? Is the broccoli already heading up or are small-potted tomatoes fruiting? If so, avoid them and look for younger, fresher seedlings. A rapidly growing seedling should only spend a few short weeks growing in a punnet after germination before being planted straight into its forever (or for a while until I eat it) home.

So, be selective. Discard the one stunted broccoli seedling at the back of the punnet. If you start with the best, you will end with the best. Prepare the bed well, water every day in warmer weather, keep the possums, insects and birds off and watch the bounty roll in.

Yours in veg,


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