Compact gardening – Part 5

Taking care of young plants.

Today you’ll learn how to draw up seedlings directly from seeds, how to take care of young plants and how to choose plants if you prefer buying them directly from a garden center.

Seedlings and young plants are sensitive and need extra care to thrive and grow into strong and productive plants.

When you sow your different seeds you should remember the following:

  • Most plants prefer a soil without too much fertilizer when they are young – mix your standard soil out with some sand.
  • Don’t put too many seeds tightly together – allow them some space to grow.
  • Protect the pots from strong sun and drought during the first weeks – some plants such as chili even need to be kept in dark and moist conditions during the first week to sprout.
  • Pre-treating the seeds through moistening them on a wet piece of kitchen paper for a couple of days make most seeds sprout faster.

Sowing seeds
When sowing seeds in small pots – follow these steps:

  1. Fill your soil into small pots or egg cartons – they work great for starting seedlings. Just make sure to keep them moist!
  2. Use a stick or the end of a pencil to make a space for each seed. For really small seeds you can skip this step and just spread them over the surface.
  3. Put one seed in each section. If you’re using lager pots, space out the seeds evenly in it.
  4. Cover with a thin layer of soil.
  5. Water the pots and put them in a light place without direct sun for the first weeks. (Chilis work out best in mini greenhouses as seen on the bottom right in the picture and they might need to be covered with a blanket to create a warm and moist environment.)

Once the seedlings have grown up and are getting the second pair of leaves it’s time to transfer them to a larger pot or straight out into your garden beds, if it’s warm enough outside at the time. If it is still cold, harden the plants through putting them outdoors for a few hours a day for them to get used to the climate gradually.

When transferring the seedling, be very careful! Grab them on the stem close to the soil and make sure that the full roots are kept intact. Prepare the new pot with soil and a hole large enough for the roots, put the plant in and close the soil gently. No need to push the plants hard into the soil.

Once the plants have been transferred to their final pot or garden bed you can start giving them some more fertilizer, either mixed into the soil or in liquid form (for instance nettle juice).

When sowing seeds directly into your garden beds or outdoor pots you may have to thin out the number of plants to make sure they don’t choke each other. Just remove the excess plants to create enough space around each one you keep. Do this as early as possible when you see that the seedlings are starting to compete about the space. If you want to transfer the plants you thin out, wait until you see that second pair of leaves on the stem.

Always keep the plants that seem to grow strong and large and look healthy!

Caring for young plants

Prevent your young plants from drying out. If they get to dry they can die or attract pests. Getting far too wet is also not good. The plants may drown or get infected by fungi.

Once they have grown a bit larger they will need a lot of light and some more fertilization to grow strong. Use liquid diluted liquid fertilizers in the beginning to not have to mix around in the soil. The roots are still very sensitive. Covering the soil with fine mulch such as grass clippings also protect them from being out-conquered by weeds.

Buying ready plants

If you want to save some time or if you’re starting your gardening project a bit later into spring or summer it may be smarter to buy ready plants from a garden center or farmer’s market. Buying plants is of course more expensive, but if you are a beginner doing this could be an advantage. Plants are most delicate when they are small. Buying a bit larger plants make them easier to tend to.

If you would like to try out many different types of plants and varieties it is also smarter to buy ready plants. Buying a couple of different tomato plants already grown is cheaper than buying three or four different bags with seeds.

When choosing plants in a garden center you should look for the following:

  • Choose plants that look healthy, avoid those that look sagging or have brown spots
  • For annuals, it is OK to buy small ones but with perennials it’s better to by large ones to harvest faster
  • Be careful to choose a suiting variety of the plant. If you have limited space, a compact growing type is often better.

When planting out your ready bought plants:

  1. Take them out of their pots gently.
  2. Try to loosen up the roots a bit and water them (larger plants such as trees may need soaking in a bucket for an hour or two).
  3. Prepare the soil with a hole large enough for the roots to fit. For bushes and trees, prepare with a bit of extra fertilizer in the bottom of the hole.
  4. Put the plant in and cover with soil. Make sure the plant is standing straight.
  5. Water richly.
  6. Mulch around the plant if needed to prevent the soil from drying out.

Using these steps you should be successful with your planting project. If you want to learn some more on how to choose plants, the Royal Horticultural Society and the BBC have nice articles about this.

Your activities

Will you be using ready bought plants or try out sowing seeds this season or maybe both?

If you haven’t already, choose one of the pots or garden beds from your design and either sow the seeds needed or buy the ready plants. Take some photos and share your project using #mycompactgarden.

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Veronica is the founder of With one foot in the past and one in the future she takes inspiration from older aesthetics and ideas to apply them in updated form today. She is passionate about teaching timeless skills and believes that the world needs more polymaths.

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