How To Get The Most Out Of Your Garden Center Veggie Packs


Q. I really need your help, I’m a fairly good gardener but lack knowledge when it comes to veggie packs that are lush and vibrant. Whether planted in the ground or large containers, they end up dying. How can I overcome this dilemma?

A. Veggie packs, as sold in most garden centers, can be tricky to plant out successfully for several reasons. Once the plants arrive at the retail location, they often are allowed to dry out, which can stress the plants. Find out when the growers deliver the plants and try to get to the garden center on that day or at least the morning after. 

Most vegetables and herbs are sold with far too many plants in each cell or container. I once purchased a 4-inch pot of leeks that contained over 50 individual plants! If I were to plant that clump in the ground, none of the leeks would ever get much bigger than an individual chive plant. The pot looked gorgeous and lush, but it was overstuffed. Realistically, only about 3 or 4 leeks should have been in that 4-inch pot, but then it wouldn’t have looked as pretty. I put the clump of leeks into a bucket of water and carefully teased as many individual plants out as I could. 

In some cases, you can break the root ball in half, or just loosen it up a bit to give the plants a little extra room. This works when there are only 5 or 10 individual plants in each pot or cell. This will inevitably damage the roots, so it’s a good idea to trim the top half of the plant to give the roots a chance to recover.

Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants usually have 2 or 3 plants per cell or pot, but that’s still too many. If you can’t tease them apart, just cut the extra plants off at the soil surface so you’re left with just one.

When planting, dig a hole two or three times as wide as the root ball and backfill it with compost. When planting tomatoes, remove the lower leaves and plant deep enough so that several inches of stem are buried. Those little bumps on the tomato stem will turn into roots, which will give the plant a better start.

Make sure you press the soil firmly into the hole so there are no air pockets around the roots. Make a watering basin by pushing the soil into a raised ring around the base of the plant. You should have a “donut” that’s about 12 inches across. Fill the watering basin with water, let it sink in, then fill it again. Right after planting, those baby plants will need extra attention, especially in the form of daily watering.

Finally, we like to mulch the new plants with fresh grass clippings. Once they are sprinkled around the seedlings and watered, they form a lightweight mat that doesn’t interfere with the new plants’ growth but keeps the weeds at bay. This should only be done if you haven’t used any kind of weed control or killer on your grass.

Los Angeles County; 626-586-1988;

Orange County; 949-809-9760;

Riverside County; 951-683-6491 ext. 231;

San Bernardino County; 909-387-2182;

Laura Simpson | Columnist Laura Simpson has been a master gardener since 2002, and a master food preserver since 2015. She and her husband, Jim (also a master gardener), live near Temecula in an ordinary tract home. Their edible landscape consists of an ever-changing variety of fruit trees, herbs and vegetables. Together, they have five children. Laura frequently speaks on gardening and food preservation topics, including vegetable and herb gardening, edible landscaping and food safety. Before joining the master gardener program, she worked in the biotech industry and in biomedical research. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in molecular biology from UC San Diego.

Vittorio Rienzo

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