So your garden plans are ready, now it's just a matter of time until the local farm and garden nursery stocks their veggie seedlings. And one plant is pretty much like the next, right?
So before you walk into the arms of that gardening high we all feel, make a few notes as to what to look for:
1. Rethink buying cucumber plants.
And squash and melons for that matter. The few weeks you save by purchasing plants will likely be off-set by transplant shock. Consider buying seeds instead, and direct sowing them after your last spring frost. Many seeds last for years, so you save money as well. Better still, you get to choose the varieties you like.
The exception here is if you are battling squash vine borers, and planting later than usual outside.
Similarly, some plants just prefer to be direct seeded. Examples include lettuce, carrots, beets, corn, okra, peas and kohlrabi.
2. Size matters, but not how you may think.
You don't necessarily want the biggest plants, you want the best. A tomato plant that is flowering, or worse, has baby tomatoes, is too mature for the garden. If you must buy it, pinch off the flowers and fruit. Let it get a good-root hold first. You'll get more fruit in the long run. Likewise peppers. A bud or two is fine, but avoid the ones that are blooming. Here are some more tips on tomatoes.
3. How green is it?
Are the leaves beginning to yellow? Are the stems weak and spindly? If it doesn't look healthy, put it back. The exception is for end-of-season plants that might otherwise be tossed, but those are usually ornamental and hugely discounted or free. When it comes to planting your veggie garden you want the healthiest plants you can find.
These symptoms can have quite a number of cause, including bad bugs or plant stress. Avoid them if possible.
4. Look under the hood.
Are there roots hanging out from the bottom of the cells? Wee ones aren't too bad, but if you see long roots know that the plant has already outgrown its container. This means it is more likely you will cause damage to the roots when transplanting. This isn't usually severe, though it can be; why chance it?
5. Consider the source.
Some plants are treated with Neonicotinoids in an effort to keep them bug-free as they are shipped from the nursery to the store. This insecticide also affects good bugs like bees, and can remain in your garden for years. If the plants aren't labeled, ask. Smaller nurseries can ask their sources, big box stores should know. Or you can just buy organic seedlings and not stress it. The last thing you need is to start harming your pollinators.
Bookmark this or make a note before you head out to buy plants. Something happens to us gardeners when we are around plants, and often all sense seems to take a leave of absence.
Yeah, we've been there.
3 Tips for Transplanting Tomatoes