Mini plants to save time and money while adding colour this National Gardening Week

These mini plants can save you time and money if you want colour and flavour in your garden this year, says Hannah Stephenson, ahead of National Gardening Week.

Begonias, seen here at the Arium in Leeds, are difficult to grow from seed. Picture by Simon Hulme.

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.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Plug plants are essentially mini-plants 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.

There are advantages to using 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 very 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 can cost around 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.

You can even buy houseplants as plugs for less than a more mature specimen would cost and nurture them yourself.

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 YouTube personality Charles Dowding, who gives talks and runs gardening courses.

“I use Delfland Nurseries. Because they are organic, the plants tend to be smaller but also much stronger.

“Sometimes large and lush plants – which look great at point of purchase – do nothing but decline for a while until they recover from being in the new and more challenging conditions.”

Some plants are just 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.”

National Gardening Week runs April 26 to May 2.