Plug plants – very small plants that are sometimes described as 'baby plants' or 'young plants' – are an easy and convenient option if you do not want to grow plants from seed or have missed the best time to sow.
Germinated and grown on in ideal conditions, plug plants are available for a wide range of flowers and vegetables and come with well-established growth and a healthy root system.
They are also an economical and cheap way to buy plants (particularly if you want to buy multiple plants, with some costing just pennies each) early in the season for growing on, rather than buying larger but more expensive plants.
A wide range of companies offer plug plants online – usually from early spring, before the growing season gets underway.
What are plug plants?
Plug plants can be annual bedding plants, young perennials, wildflowers, herb or veg plants. They are seedlings or propagated cuttings that have been grown in individual cells or units that allow for good root growth and make for easy planting up. They will have been expertly grown and nurtured through the first stages of growth.
Generally, the smallest plant you might find in a nursery will be in a 9cm pot. A plug plant tends to be a smaller, younger plant than you’ll get in a 9cm pot.
Plug plants are usually sold as multiples – great if you want to make bedding displays for pots or plant up a large areas.
They are also a great option if you didn't get around to sowing your own veg seeds but still want to harvest your own crops. Some plants, such as antirrhinums, are harder to grow from tiny seeds, so even experienced gardeners might buy these as plug plants.
How to care for plug plants
Always read the instructions that come with your plug plants and give them a thorough watering on arrival. As many plug plants are still small and sent out early in the planting season, you will need to pot up your plugs into small pots and keep them somewhere frost free, such as a cold frame, mini greenhouse or greenhouse (or failing that, a sunny windowsill) in order to grow them on. They can be planted out where they are to flower once the risk of frost has passed.
Also look out for...
Plant companies sometimes offer other young plant options such as:
Mini plugs – very young plants and seedlings that will need a bit more care to grow on.
Jumbo plugs or jumbo seedlings – a big bigger and more established than your standard plug plant.
Garden-ready plugs – bigger again and ready to go straight into the garden without needing to be potted on undercover.
The bigger the plug plant the more expensive it will be – but also the more established it is.
Some companies offer plugs in peat-free compost. It’s worth checking what companies offer. Plug plants were traditionally supplied in plastic trays and cells but fortunately, companies are increasingly offering biodegradable options. Check this out with your chosen supplier.
The best plug plants for your garden in 2022
Herb plug plants
Supermarket herbs are expensive and come in packs that are either too small or too big. Grow your own and you can pick exactly the amount you need when you want it. Plug plant choices can range from the standard choices of parsley, thyme, sage and rosemary to the less usual such as dill, chervil and sorrel. And how about trying borage – beautiful blue edible flowers perfect for adding to salads and summer cocktails, but also a fantastic source of nectar for hungry pollinators.
Herb plugs often come in collections of different ‘herb garden’ selections, or you might want to try different cultivars of the same herb giving an interesting range of flavours from the one type of herb – mint for example can be apple mint, Moroccan mint, curly mint, peppermint and more all with slightly differing flavours.
Ultimate Mint Plant Collection
Annual plug plants
These are usually annuals that will grow and flower over just one year and will then need replacing the following year. They are particularly useful for planting in beds, hanging baskets, patio containers and window boxes where you want a colourful summer display. Starting with plug plants means your displays can be really fulsome when grown to fill the container with lots of impact from a selection of plants. Options include begonias, petunias, trailing fuchsias and zonal pelargoniums (geraniums).
Cut flower plug plants
Bringing your own flowers that you’ve grown yourself into the house to arrange in a vase or a bouquet gives every gardener a real sense of achievement. Select your own mix of flowers to grow from favourites or a chosen colour palette.
Grower and gardener Sarah Raven is known for her lovely selection of flowering plants, all of which she will have grown in her own garden, so come tried and tested. Her selection also offers themed selections curated by Sarah to work brilliantly together. This season she has a gorgeous new cosmos blending soft creams, pinks and yellows – Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Apricot Lemonade’.
Plug plant collections
If you are looking to plant up a favourite container, a new garden or new border, it could be worth considering plug plant collections offering a selection of plants in one handy purchase. Collections are tailored to work in particular locations - in a container, hanging basket, border, shade etc.
You can also choose plants for a particular look – white flowers, trailing, spring highlights, etc. Choose one suited to your conditions and that offers a good range of colour, flower shape, size and foliage. A perennial collection will give you interest year after year.
Perennial plug plants
Plug plants are a really cost-effective way to grow perennials and have them establish in your garden year on year. It’s a great way to perhaps expand your repertoire of plants and experiment with something new to see how they work in your garden and in different planting schemes. They're also a great option if you're establishing a large area of planting, such as a lavender hedge or knot garden.
Vegetable plug plants
Buying vegetable plug plants is an easy way to give veg growing a go if you find the idea of sowing seeds daunting, whether you're looking to grow vegetables in pots or raised bed or an entire kitchen garden, complete with beautiful young plants, edible flowers and companion plants.
Equally, if you’re keen to fill a veg plot with a range of produce to please the family and give you something fresh for as long a season as possible you can choose a ready-chosen selection of veg plug plants from carrots to peas to spinach. Look out for organic options too.
Salad plug plants
Salads are easy and quick to grow and can be repeat grown throughout the spring and summer and even into winter if you choose the right type of salads to grow. Why not try some more unusual salad choices – mizuna for a nice peppery hit, or lamb’s lettuce as a fresh tasting salad for winter months. Beet leaves picked young will give you a deep red hit in your salad bowl and rocket is always a crowd pleaser.
Wildflower plug plants
If you are looking to add more wildflowers to your garden, be it in an area of lawn or hedgerow edge, plug plants are a good option, allowing you to dot plants into existing planting without having to start from scratch. Meadows can be tricky to establish but you are likely to have better success choosing ready established plug plants. Make sure your choices are suited to your conditions – damp soil, shady, full sun, etc.
Sorrel Everton is deputy editor of Gardens Illustrated.
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