Seed or plantlet

Watching a seed transform into a plant is a great pleasure. Seeds are cheap and many varieties are readily available. Alternatively, you can cut out the germination period and buy a healthy young plantlet.

Starting with seeds

Mail-order catalogs and websites offer a much greater choice of seeds than garden centers. Any reputable supplier will recommend suitable varieties for your local conditions (pp80-81); check also that the variety's growth habit is suitable for you. The cost of seeds may vary, so check the approximate seed count on the packet as well as the price. Seeds of an F1 hybrid are more expensive than open-pollinated seed.

It can be satisfying to buy seeds from small family suppliers, but you should be aware that if they grow a lot of varieties in a small area, there is a greater chance of cross-pollination and therefore variation in the plants. If you are interested in heirloom varieties, it is worth joining one of the nonprofit organizations dedicated to the preservation of heirloom seeds. (See p187 for useful websites and addresses.)

CHOOSE YOUR SEEDS - each one is a potential plant

Naked seeds Most seeds are supplied as dried seeds; store in a cool, dry place out of the light and they will keep for a long time.

Pelleted seeds A clay coating makes these seeds easy to handle. Germination rates are less erratic, but they don't keep as long.

Starting with plantlets

Although it is less expensive to raise your own plants from seeds, buying in seedling plants, or plantlets, will save you time that you would otherwise spend raising them yourself. Select good, sturdy plants with deep green leaves that are free from spots and bugs. A good nursery staff should not be upset if they see you checking the undersides of the leaves for insects or lifting a sample plant from its pot to check for vigorous, healthy roots.

If plantlets are particularly small and have undeveloped roots, pot them into 4in (10cm) pots and grow until the roots fill the new pots. When conditions allow, plant any that have flowers (pp98-101).

Tomato plantlets

Buy plantlets in individual cell packs or biodegradable pots, so you can pot or plant them out without any root disturbance.

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