Many vegetables like peppers and tomatoes are available at your local nursery near the best time for planting them in the backyard garden. If you prefer to buy your seedlings rather than growing them from seed, then you need to know what to look for when you shop for the plants you want to bring home.
Buying Seedlings at the Nursery
What do you look for in healthy seedlings at a nursery? Start with color. Seedlings should be a healthy green color, with good sized leaves for their type.
Yellow leaves and dry soil indicate the plant may have been stressed by drying out, by over watering, or is deficient in some nutrients.
Leaves curled up or under may indicate insect infestation, this is something to watch closely for. Black spots also.
Avoid those that are already blooming, as the stress of being transplanted will set them back more than those not yet at the blooming stage.
Look for evidence of new growth, like young smaller center leaves indicating the plant is progressing and healthy.
Also avoid leggy seedlings, with long stems and sparse leaves at the top. These are more likely to have the stem accidentally broken, and generally have a hard time adjusting to transplanting. The moisture needs to go up that long stem to the leaves, and with little root development, will have a hard time getting there.
If you can't find the variety of tomato you want except in a leggy seedling, take great care while transporting the seedling. You can compensate for the legginess if you are planting outdoors in the garden. You really can't compensate in a container though, so be careful if you are container gardening.
Hardening Off Seedlings
Seedlings need to spend a few hours a day, increasing the time each day, outdoors. This will help them to acclimate to the temperature changes . If the weather is mild, and above 50 degrees at night, you can harden them off in about a week.
If there is large variation between day and night temperatures, or cold nights, then do this for 2 weeks, to be on the safe side. Bring them in at night until you plant them, but leave them until sunset the last few days.
Be sure to keep them watered and away from intense sun or strong winds, especially the first week. A strong wind can snap the stem, and then the plant is doomed. Very few vegetables survive a broken stem. Watch out for pets chewing or knocking them down too.