You know how it goes: take a quick trip to the garden center to get a new pair of gloves or another bag of compost, and the next thing you know you're wandering down the aisles, drawn by that patchwork carpet of bright colors, each teeny plant in its tiny cell putting out flowers that call, "buy me, buy me, buy ME!"
It can be hard to ignore them, but it's better to buy seedlings that are still more potential than performance, stocky little guys with multiple stems, healthy-looking leaves and few flower buds or none at all. And when I say little I do mean little.
Here are 2 mantras to chant when confronted by all those blossoms:
1." Roots, Roots, Roots." These are the most important part of the plant, and there's not much room in those potlets. With constant water and fertilizer an annual can grow 8, 10 inches - I've seen 'em two feet-tall in a pot the size of an ice cube, but that plant is going to have major adjustment problems when it moves into the garden. If roots are coming out of the bottom, that's a good sign they're too crowded inside for the seedlings to be a good buy.
2. "Don't Forget the Slow Starters." Impulse buying being what it is, nurseries seldom give starring positions to plants that are not in bloom. But that means you have to look carefully to find the interesting stuff: tall growing plants, plants that make long stems for cutting, and plants that do not bloom until late. Go for the green and check the labels. Instead of ho-hum dwarf cosmos, you might find the comparatively new and quite dandy:
Double Click cosmos
And cutting flowers aren't the only ones that might not be blooming yet. If there's anything ferny and green in that sea of marigold seedlings it might be Lemon Gem. Yay!
Lemon gem marigold
Lemon gem is little but mighty. It makes low, flower-covered bushes that need no deadheading to keep blooming all summer, and the look tidy while they do it. Unlike most marigolds it has pleasantly scented foliage -- slightly suggestive of lemons. And it's edible, a bit on the spicy side but very nice scattered over a salad or a grilled salmon steak or...
To return to our seedlings. I see to my horror some places are selling baby sunflowers. SUNFLOWERS! There are gazillions of terrific sunflowers: classic yellows with one huge flower like Russian Giant, not-classic dark reds like multi-blossomed Velvet Queen, and just about everything in between although as yet none are purple (thank heaven for small mercies).
Point of rant: all of them will make MUCH better plants if you start them from seed. Nasturtiums, too, which are also more and more sold as seedlings but phooey on that, and here are a few more...
Things that should be started from seed: annual poppies, evening-scented stock (Matthiola bicornis), coriander, dill, annual phlox (Phlox drummondii), larkspur, annual lupine, morning glories... I'd say sweet peas, too. But those should be in by now.
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