The Herald - The Herald Magazine
No time to sow seeds? Take a short-cut with plug plants
NATIONAL Gardening Week, that time when we are all encouraged to get gardening, is almost upon us. But if you don’t have time, space or the equipment to sow seeds this spring, there’s still time to buy plug plants that could cost you far less than the more mature versions you’d be buying in early summer.
Plug plants are essentially miniplants grown in their own cell and are smaller than the pots of bedding you can buy later in the season.
While the last chance to buy summer bedding as plugs is generally the end of April, some more tender vegetable plugs are sent out later, to be planted in the ground or in containers soon after arriving.
You’ll still need to have a space indoors to put tender annuals while they are growing, but you won’t have to invest in seed trays or fine seed compost because you’ve already had a head start.
If you have a frost-free greenhouse or enough space indoors, you could start planting up hanging baskets and containers with plug plants, giving them plenty of room to develop and put down new roots, but these plants are like babies so they will need some TLC and gentle handling before you place them outside when all danger of frost has passed.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF PLUG PLANTS?
They are less fiddly than seeds. Plug plants arrive in their own cell of soil and take away the hassle of thinning out seedlings from trays and the often careful transplanting required to pot them on. The plants risk less root disturbance, which can cause a check in growth, as you already have an individual plant, which you’ll just need to transfer into a larger pot when you receive it.
THEY’RE CHEAPER THAN MORE MATURE VERSIONS
Plug plants can cost about half the price of more mature plants later on in the season – both from online suppliers and garden centres.
“Plug plant sizes vary dramatically but most of ours are about 6cm.
Our Teen range, most of which are raised from cuttings and are true to type, are 9cm,” says Marcus Eyles, horticultural director of Dobbies Garden Centres (dobbies.com).
“The Teen range is £2.49 each and five plants for £10. If you bought these plants later in the season at a larger size, they would cost from £5 to £10 each.”
YOU MAY NOT WANT TOO MANY PLANTS
If you grow from seed, you may well end up throwing quite a few plants away as you find you don’t have room for all the seedlings.
Vegetable plug plants in particular are great if you only want a few of a particular vegetable, as you can pick and choose.
A packet of tomato or chilli seeds, for instance, is likely to produce far too many plants for the average garden.
“If people want to buy plug plants, I would recommend almost any vegetable actually, including beetroot and salad onions,” says gardening expert, author and YouTuber Charles Dowding (charlesdowding.co.uk), who gives talks and runs gardening courses. “I use Delfland Nurseries (organicplants.co.uk). Because they are organic, the plants tend to be smaller but also much stronger.”
SOME PLANTS ARE DIFFICULT TO GROW FROM SEED
“Begonias, bacopa, nemesia, osteospermum, verbena and lobelia are all more difficult plants to propagate and take time. Therefore buying them when they have already been raised on to young plants will give you a head start for the season, plus could save time spent if unsuccessful in propagating from cuttings or seeds,” Eyles advises.
Dowding adds: “Good veg to buy [as plugs] are aubergines, chilli, pepper, celery, celeriac, grafted tomatoes, perhaps cucumber and melon too.”
HOW MUCH CARE WILL THEY NEED?
“Plant into larger pots and place in a greenhouse, grow house, conservatory or windowsill with lots of natural light. Make sure the temperature stays above 14 degrees,” concludes Eyles.
National Gardening Week runs from April 26 to May 2. For more information visit rhs.org. uk.