While purchasing vegetable transplants from the nursery or garden shop is much easier than growing them, buying blindly could mean a poor harvest, or even none at all. There are stores galore in Coastal Connecticut that offer transplants, in some cases almost as soon as the last snow melts. Even if a business has a greenhouse, however, it may not grow all or even any of the transplants it offers. Many stores buy transplants from large wholesalers, which may not indicate lesser quality but mean your plants are not locally grown.
First caution: Do not buy your transplants too early. You should put them into the garden as soon as possible. Bear in mind that, for some vegetables, there may be a difference of a week or more in the earliest safe planting date between the immediate coast and places a few miles inland.
As a rule of thumb, opt for transplants that are stocky, short, and dark green; that is, unless they are supposed to be another color. Such plants are well-nourished and generally have good root systems. Avoid spindly, leggy plants, which are prone to injury and may not be healthy. The same goes for plants with even a tad of yellow or brown foliage. Check plants carefully for insects so that you do not introduce pests into your garden.
A healthy, well-developed root system is essential for successful transplanting. Therefore, buy plants in containers that protect roots. Importantly, make sure the transplants are not root bound, which is when a plant’s roots have grown too large for the container. Such plants are subject to wilt and may lack nourishment. Roots may be damaged when they are removed from the container.
Bear in mind that some types of vegetables tolerate transplanting much better than others, which do better seeded directly in the garden. Among those that do well are cabbages and their kin, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Lettuce, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers are top transplants and, indeed, in our climate, must be started ahead of time to bear copious fruit before the end of the growing season.
Plants that fare poorly when transplanted are summer and winter squash, pumpkins, melons, cucumbers, beans, and corn. Regardless, retail garden outlets generally stock squash, cukes, and melons as standard items. You gain little in the way of time by using them. They generally take time to recover from transplanting and, by then, plants seeded directly catch up.
Speaking of catching up, if you want to save money on late-season transplants, such as tomatoes, wait to buy them until after Memorial Day. The selection may be spare; retailers will often sell plants at a deep discount to clear out their inventory. Better yet—it has happened to me—you sometimes get them for free.