Now that you understand the differences between sowing methods from our previous post, we want to help you find the best seeds and seedlings for your garden. It isn’t quite as simple as popping online or heading down to the shops to pick up the first packet of organic seeds you see. There are a number of things to consider first, like thinking about when your growing season is or assessing the health of the seedling. We’ve consulted our expert gardeners to gather a list of things you should look out for while you’re shopping.
How to choose the best seeds for your garden
Growing plants from seed? Great! But here are the things you should consider before you buy seeds.
Consider your climate
Understanding your climate is incredibly important when it comes to purchasing seeds for your vegetable garden. You should identify your last frost date, note the rainfall rates and assess temperature fluctuations. Different varieties will have different temperature requirements for germination and growth. So, this is particularly important. It is also wise to note your hardiness rating/zone so that you can shop for seeds that will grow well in your area. Ensure that this information matches the preferred conditions that can be found on the back of your seed packet.
Identifying weather patterns and your hardiness rating will also help you to eliminate plant seeds that will not suit your growing conditions. For instance, if you live in an area with extremely cold, frosty weather you can rule out purchasing tomato seeds or squash.
Be honest about your skill level
Sowing seeds indoors requires a certain level of skill and patience that not all gardeners (beginner or not) are blessed with. While certain seeds (like lettuce or radish) are easy to grow, plants like potatoes are much more difficult to get started from seeds. So, if you know that you don’t have the experience or know-how to take these plants from seed to harvest, you may want to think about purchasing a seedling instead. It’s also important to note that if you want to create your own kitchen garden you’ll need seed trays and other seed starting supplies that wouldn’t be required if you plant seedlings or sow directly into the ground.
However, more confident gardeners may prefer to develop their skills by growing from seed, watching those seeds germinate and later transplanting them. It all comes down to being honest about your abilities and making sure to don’t set yourself (and your plants) up for failure.
Check viability & age
Finding the right seeds means finding seeds that are viable and not too old. That’s why you should always look out for seeds that have a high germination rate and will be able to mature properly. It’s important to note that some seeds have a short period of viability and could lose their ability to germinate after a few months, while others will remain viable for years.
But how do you know that the seeds you are buying will be viable? Well, the back of your seed packet should indicate a germination rate. This is helpful because if your seeds don’t sprout during that window you will be able to tell that something has gone wrong.
Heirloom vs. hybrid
‘Heirloom seeds’ is the term used to describe seeds that are open-pollinated and have been passed down through generations of gardeners. They may have unique traits (e.g. flavour or shape) that may not be found easily in commercial seeds. You can purchase them online or from local gardeners and in doing so you’ll support smaller, family-owned businesses. However, they are not as easy to come by as hybrid seeds.
Hybrid seeds are created through artificial pollination. They are bred for disease resistance and higher yields. They will offer a high level of consistency and uniformity, though may not produce the same unique flavours found in heirloom seeds. When choosing between the two, it really comes down to personal preference. However, hybrid seeds are much easier to source.
Purchase your seeds from a reliable source
Whatever type of seeds you choose, you must ensure that you are purchasing from reliable, trustworthy seed companies. After all, you’ll want the best quality seeds to guarantee a better chance of success. Plus, seeds obtained from a trusted supplier are more likely to come from plants bred for disease and pest resistance. They will also give you the correct planting and maintenance advice. If purchasing heirloom seeds, going to a trusted supplier is especially important as you will need to rely on them to label your seeds correctly and give you tailored advice on planting.
So, what signs indicate that a supplier can be trusted?
- Reviews and reputation: We recommend starting your search by asking any gardener friends where they shop for seeds. Or, conduct your own research by checking online reviews.
- Certifications: Check if the supplier you wish to purchase from has any certifications from trusted organisations. This may include certifications for organic seeds or partnerships with sustainability initiatives.
- Experience: How long has the supplier been in business? Is it being run and operated by experienced gardeners? You’ll want to know that the company really knows their stuff, so do some research or pop in to chat with the employees to get an understanding of how they operate.
- Return and refund policies: Another sure-fire way to tell that a supplier can be trusted is when they offer a fair return and refund process for defective seeds or seedlings.
How to choose the best seedlings for your garden
Growing vegetables and fruit from seedlings? Well, you’ll need to…
Determine the size and maturity you need
Different plants can vary drastically in terms of size and growth habits. So, you’ll need to think about the space you have available in your garden. If you have a small garden, smaller (and fewer) seedlings will be required. Seedlings also need access to good air circulation and lots of sunlight for optimal growth, so give them enough space to thrive.
Certain plants grow best when planted as mature seedlings vs seedlings that have just sprouted. For instance, fruit trees are best transplanted as well-established seedlings at a height of around 40cm. So, conduct some research about the specific variety you wish to plant to see how mature your seedling should be.
Consider when you’ll be planting
Want to grow strawberries in your fruit and vegetable garden? Then you’ll need to be planting the seedlings in the spring for summer fruiting. As seedlings need to be at the correct stage (not under or over-developed) to be planted, you will have to purchase very close to your plant date. This requires good planning on your part and it may be worthwhile gathering your thoughts and tracking your journey in a garden journal.
Consider the length of the growing season for the fruit & veggies you wish to plant and plan accordingly. Or, choose seedlings that align with the time you have available to work on your garden.
Assess the plant’s health
Before purchasing seedlings, you should carry out a few basic checks to make sure they are in good health and are optimal for planting. These checks include:
- General appearance: First check for obvious signs of good health like sturdy stems and healthy foliage. If the seedling has obvious yellowed or wilted leaves, it’s best to avoid.
- Signs of pests or disease: Keep a lookout for aphids or other small pests when examining seedlings. You’ll also want to examine the leaves for spots or signs of mildew (white powdery fungus). After all, you won’t want to introduce these issues to your garden, so stay well away.
- Root health: If you can, remove the seedling from its container and examine the roots. Healthy roots will be light in colour, well-developed and not overly tangled.
- The balance between roots and top growth: A healthy plant should have a well-developed root system that is even to the amount of growth above the soil. Avoid seedlings that have weak top growth or small, insufficient roots. This may signal that the seedling will struggle to properly establish itself once planted.
Don’t be afraid to ask for advice!
Starting a new fruit and veggie garden can be intimidating. If your knowledge is limited it’s understandable that you would be a little shy and unsure. But really, there’s nothing to worry about. Us gardeners are a friendly bunch who love to give advice on everything from germinating seeds to recommending which seedlings to buy. So, don’t be afraid to ask. If the thought of approaching someone in person makes you break out into a cold sweat (we understand), you can always try some gardening books or contact us online. We’ll either direct you to an article on our knowledge hub that should help or provide you with the expert advice you need to find the right vegetable seedlings for your garden.
Now that you know what to look out for, use these tips to shop for the seeds or seedlings that will work best in your garden. Pop down to your local garden centre or check out our incredible range of seeds and seedlings online now. You may also find our post on what plants work best in UK gardens useful too. If you have any more questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us on social media (@gardeningexpress), we would love to hear from you!
Keep an eye out on our knowledge hub for even more step-by-step guides on how to create the perfect fruit and vegetable garden. We’ll be covering everything from what tools you’ll need to companion planting.