Grow seedlings into lush fruition

Plant growers with vision and modern technology have fast-tracked the production of our flowers, herbs and vegetables with ready-to-plant seedlings in trays in an astonishing variety.

The most popular display area in any garden centre is probably the seedling tables filled with baby plants that a gardener can take home to plant in the hope of seeing swathes of seasonal garden annuals in flower, or flourishing edibles turning into a full-on harvest in a very short space of time.

Making use of this convenience requires only a few simple gardening skills.

At the nursery:

Choose trays of seedlings with uniform top growth and without chew marks or yellowing or wilting leaves.

If the seedlings are still very small and not bushy enough to fill up their cells in the tray, it might be a case of leaving the hothouse too soon. This means you will have to ‘harden’ them off in a shady and protected place at home before planting it out in the garden. If the plants are too small, don’t buy them!

It’s not a problem if the seedlings are already in bloom, but if they are lanky, chances are that they have not been well cared for.

Hard, dry soil and algae growth on the surface are also not good signs. These could indicate overwatering and bad drainage, or under-watering. The soil in which a seedling grows should always be moist and friable.

In the garden:

Prepare the planting area well with lots of compost and a general fertiliser. You can also add water-retentive granules. Remove old roots and stones and rake level. Water lightly afterwards to settle the soil.

Water the seedlings a few hours before you want to plant them, or even the night before. Plant early morning, late afternoon or on an overcast day.

Remove the seedling gently from the tray by pushing it from the bottom and holding on to the leaves – do not rip it out by the stem.

Check the seedling’s roots system – if there are a lot of white roots growing in a thick mat, tease them loose and gently tear off the bottom layer. This will force the plant to produce new roots, which will settle into the soil more easily. Also pull off old leaves at the base of the seedlings to clean them up, if necessary.

Space the seedlings according to the instructions given on the label, and plant them at the same level as in the trays. The only exception is tomato seedlings, which you should plant a little deeper, as they send out roots along their stems.

Water immediately with a gentle sprayer, and afterwards keep the soil moist until they are well established.

To give your young seedlings a boost, fertilise them every two weeks with a seaweed-based water-soluble fertiliser.

Protect the seedlings against snails, slugs and cutworms.

Hot Tips:

If the seedlings already have a few flowers on when you plant them, remove them and the growth tips by gently pinching them off– this will ensure that the plant’s energy goes into root-growth first, rather than supporting the blooms. Pinching also encourages new side shoots and bushier plants.

As the plants grow, keep on deadheading them. In the case of annuals like petunias, you can cut them back quite hard after a flower flush. This results in another flush and will prolong their stay in your garden or containers.

Don’t plant the same annuals or veggies year after year in the same spot as it can lead to a build up of disease.

The Gardener