Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Don't Buy Seedlings at Grocery Stores

....unless you know what you're doing.

Why shouldn't you buy seedlings at grocery stores? Because these stores are just trying to make a buck, without regard to your gardening success. They know that if you take these plants home and put them in the ground and they die, you'll probably blame yourself. (As you probably should, since you ignored my advice!) Here are some good reasons why I can make such damning statements with confidence:
1) Grocery stores are not properly equipped to care for seedlings.
2) They offer plants at totally inappropriate planting times. For example, in the picture above they've got kale (which should have been planted weeks ago), yellow squash (it's about right for that now) and bell peppers (not for two more weeks by my calendar). Planting at the wrong time makes almost every top 10 list of gardening mistakes!
3) They offer things as seedlings that should be planted from seed in the garden. For most plants each transplant means a setback; the roots are traumatized by the exposure to light and dry air, and the plant has to re-grow some of the finest root-lets. Some plants, like those squash up there, grow so easily and so quickly from seeds that it just isn't worth putting them through a transplant.
4) Do you know where those seedlings grew up? Last year the east coast of the United States experienced unusually damp, cool weather throughout spring and summer. This, in combination with the transport of seedlings from southern states (where they are cheaper to grow because of warmer weather) for sale at northern stores led to a widespread outbreak of late blight, a devastating fungal disease that not only kills the tomato plant you buy at the grocery store, it kills every tomato plant you have, plus any potatoes you planted. And your neighbor's plants. And his neighbor's, and his neighbor's, and so on for up to 40 miles! Those seedlings that look so healthy at the grocery store may be harboring a deadly pathogen.

How about Home Depot or other stores like it? Pretty similar story. If you are a new gardener, and you want to buy plants rather than starting from seeds, go to a nursery or an experienced amateur grower. Not that they might not have a display like the one above, but if you ask them they'll probably tell you what not to buy.


  1. Oh my gosh, I knew some of this but I have no success with tomatoes from seed. What's a girl to do!?

  2. Sue I am impressed with your fortitude that you keep trying. Have you ever tried tomatillos?

  3. Not yet- Have lost much of my gardening bug here in FL

  4. Stick with it Mom!

    This was good info Shaela.