Best Way to Buy Vegetable Plant

When you want only a couple of tomato plants or a few lettuces for a container, it makes sense to buy them as young plants rather than raise your own from seed.

Most of the common vegetables are widely available in plant form, and the choice of varieties is generally good, especially for tomatoes. You may find only run-of-the-mill varieties in some garden centres. If you want new or unusual varieties, order young plants from a mail-order seed catalogue.

Buy Vegetable Plant Best Way to Buy Vegetable Plant

When to buy

In most garden centres, young vegetable plants are bought in and displayed throughout the spring. Like bedding plants, many tender vegetable plants are put on sale in March even though they cannot be planted out until the end of May. This makes caring for the young plants a lot more work than it needs to be as you have to keep them frost-free and will probably have to pot them on into larger pots at least once to prevent a check to their growth. However, if you wait until May before buying, you may be disappointed by the quality of the plants left in the shops. There is also the danger that shops will have sold out.

What to look for

Plants that you might want only one or two of (aubergines, courgettes, cucumbers, marrows, sweet peppers and tomatoes, for example) are sold singly in small pots. However, crops such as lettuces, cabbages and sweetcorn, where several plants are needed for a decent yield, tend to be sold in strips of about a dozen plants.

It is worth shopping around, not just to compare prices, but because some outlets have purpose-built facilities to keep plants well-lit yet frost-free, while others display them in outdoor areas, where they may get frosted, or indoors where light levels are inadequate. By following the advice below, you can make sure you obtain top-quality plants.

Always buy freshly delivered stock. as plants soon dry out and deteriorate when kept in small volumes of compost for several weeks.

Avoid cauliflower and calabrese that can easily suffer a check to growth and bolt.

Look for stocky or bushy plants with healthy green foliage. Straggly or leggy plants have been deprived of light and should be avoided. Also avoid plants with unnatural, discolored foliage; this is a sign of stress, frost or lack of nutrients.

Buy Vegetable Plant 1 Best Way to Buy Vegetable Plant

Avoid bringing pests into the garden: greenfly or blackfly can gather in the young growth. Speckled cucumber and courgette foliage is a sign of spider mite. Yellow or crinkled leaves could also indicate virus disease – avoid these, too.

Avoid buying bare-rooted brassica plants to reduce the likelihood of introducing clubroot into your soil.


Hardy plants (lettuces and brassicas, etc.) can be planted outside straight away unless they were displayed indoors in which case they need to be hardened off (for about a week) before planting.

Tender vegetables (courgettes, marrows, runner beans, sweetcorn) need to be kept in a light, frost-free place then hardened off for ten days before planting after the last frost date. If planting out is delayed more than a couple of weeks, pot on into larger pots or apply a dilute liquid feed.

Greenhouse vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, etc.) should be kept in a light, frost-free place, ideally in a heated greenhouse. They do not need potting on, but aim to plant them into their final pots or growing bags by May. Feed with a tomato feed if you keep them in the same pots for more than four weeks.

Hardening off

A coldframe is the ideal place to get plants used to outdoor conditions gradually, over a period of seven to ten days.

First leave the plants in the coldframe with the top closed for a day, then open the top slightly the second day but close it at night. Repeat this, opening the top wider each day until it is wide open during the day. Then start opening the top slightly at night, increasing this until the plants are acclimatised to outdoor conditions (the foliage will look healthy and the plants will be growing).

Buy Vegetable Plant 2 Best Way to Buy Vegetable Plant

Instead of a coldframe, you could use a double layer of garden fleece and a sheltered paved area near a greenhouse or on a patio. Leave first one layer then both layers of fleece off for increasing amounts of time during the day, then at night.

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