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5 Reasons Your Bought Seedlings Struggle!

Jun 20, 2023

Have you ever bought a nice selection of seedlings from your local garden centre with the excitement of getting them growing, dreaming of all the food you’re going to get to eat... 

BUT ...

once you plant them, they become sickly or just don’t thrive?  They become riddled with disease, or just don’t grow at all?  

You're left wondering what went wrong?

You created beautiful soil, you’ve selected the right vegetables to grow for your climate, you've given them all the love they need,  then why aren’t they growing? 

I know how disappointing it can be when you spend money on seedlings but don’t reap the rewards.

How much do you think you have spent on seedlings that don't produce? The thing is it might not be your fault!

I used to buy all my veggie plants as seedlings when I first started, until I learned how to successfully grow from seed. I can tell you from first-hand experience that the seedlings I grow myself always yield better results. Now I grow around 90% of my food from seed I have grown and raised myself.  (I promise you don't have to fluff around with them as much as you might think or as much as some people show you!)

Here’s what I have learned about store-bought seedlings over the years and some of the reasons I believe cause beginners to have more garden failures than successes.

So here's 5 Reasons Store Bought seedlings might struggle...

 

Disease  

So many times I have been into the big garden centres and even the smaller nurseries and have seen first hand seedlings riddled with disease.  It actually shocks me that they sell them.  Sometimes seedlings look so obviously sick, yellowing leaves, and lots of black spots and other times, it’s only very mild and would easily go unnoticed.

The thing is, you might pick up a perfectly healthy looking seedling, one that looks lovely and lush, but you may not have noticed the plants parked right next to it.  Often healthy plants are sat right next to diseased ones, meaning if it's a fungal disease it's just a matter of time until that healthy-looking seedling develops its own signs of disease, most likely once you've planted it in your garden! 

 

Root bound  

Often seedlings have been sat in their tiny little containers for too long, causing them to run out of soil to grow in, meaning they start growing over themselves.  Have you ever bought a seedling where when you pull it out of its punnet, the roots are so thick in the pot, there’s almost no soil?   

Often plants like this will start to go yellow from lack of nutrients. 

 

Wrong climate / wrong time

This is a HUGE one.  If you’re a beginner it’s very likely you’ve tried to grow food that just isn’t meant for your climate at that particular time. 

Large garden centers often sell seedlings in the wrong season or weather to grow them, usually too early or too late in the season to have success at that time.

  So many times I've seen seedlings for spring and summer being sold at the end of winter or right at the start of spring when it’s still too cold for them, or vice versa when they are selling lettuce seedlings as we come into summer and it’s too hot in most places to be able to grow it well (especially if you're a beginner).  

 

Not hardened off properly 

This leans into the point above. If Seedlings are growing at the wrong time of year and have been started indoors, they need to be hardened off appropriately to get them used to the outside world. Hardening off is a process by which you help your seedlings get accustomed to the climate.  I cover this in detail, including my step by step method inside my online program "Grow Your Patch" 

 

Too crammed 

You might think it’s awesome to try to find a punnet of seedling with the “most bang for your buck” I used to get excited to get myself a "good deal" by buying punnets with the most plants, but this isn't always the smartest move.

Seedlings that are jammed in a small space, will grow slower, or might even be unhealthy.  Seedlings that are grown too close together in a confined space will start to yellow off in time, as they fight for nutrients. 

There are lots more reasons I think growing from seed is better, but I hope these 5 tips help you to trouble shoot why you might not have been having as much luck in the garden as you could have.  If you master some seed starting you may find you have more success in growing more food!

 

Here's what you can do before you buy seedlings next time: 

  • Choose only the healthiest looking seedlings - nice green growth - free of discolouration 
  • Check their stems and make sure the seedlings you are buying have strong stems and are not too floppy!
  • Pull a seedling out of the punnet and check their roots - make sure there is around 50/50 soil to root ration. Too much soil indicates the roots aren't well formed.  Too much root and not enough soil indicates they don't have enough space.
  • Pick up seedlings only when its actually time to plant them, dont leave them hanging in their pots to long
  • Check the plants next to them to make sure you cant see disease on leaves. 
  • Make sure what you are buying is in season - ie, its safe to plant them. 

I hope these quick tips help you on your food-growing journey. 

Seed Starting & Seedling Care are just two of the subjects I cover step by step and in-depth inside my online program,"Grow Your Patch"  so you can Learn it once and have the knowledge for a lifetime!

Happy Gardening, 

Sarah