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Ordering Vegetable Seedlings Online – the Pros & Cons + What to Do When They Arrive

These days, it seems like you can order anything online. I’ve purchased a sectional sofa online that arrived in three boxes. I’ve ordered live tomato hornworms (don’t ask). Recently, I ordered vegetable seedlings for my garden online, and it changed how I view seed starting at home.

Let’s take a look at the whole process and discuss why ordering seedlings online might be right for you.

I’ve seen seedlings online before and have scoffed at them. I start my own vegetable seedlings each year. I don’t need any pampered plants shipped to my front door.

Starting seeds indoors is one of those things I look forward to in the middle of winter – seeing tiny new sprouts popping up out of the soil while it’s still blustery and cold outside. I also like to be able to choose what varieties of each veggie I will grow in my garden each year.

I’m not exactly the ideal online live plant customer.

Except, apparently, I am.

Box labeled live plants on a kitchen counter
Photo credit: Tracey Besemer

Online Seedlings Saved My Garden Season

I was in the middle of a move this winter when I started seedlings over at my sweety’s house. Needless to say, I was pretty busy. My seedlings took a back seat as I packed and unpacked and moved and broke down boxes. (I swear I would unpack a box, turn around, and two more would pop up! Pro-gardening tip: moving sucks.)

So, it came as no surprise that my seedlings suffered. I got them going late. There were a few that didn’t germinate well, and I ended up losing a couple of plants. I even ended up turning my tomato seedlings purple!

Finger holding a small purple tomato seedling
Photo credit: Tracey Besemer

And that’s okay; I plan for these eventualities.

I always plant a few more than what I need and pawn off the extras on friends and family.

Except this year, I ended up with one shishito plant. I planted three seed cells with two seeds each. In the end, I had a single seed germinate. Normally, I would notice this and get more seeds started right away, but, you know, moving.

Single shishito plant among three seedling pots

Look, I know it’s just a pepper plant, but last year, all three of my shishito peppers were wiped out by a freak late frost in early June. (Yes, June!) Not a single retailer near me sold shishito seedlings. (Most had no idea what a shishito even was. I pity them.)

I was looking at another year where shishito peppers would be slim pickings.

Anywho, a few days later, I got an email from one of my favorite seed catalogs with a last call for seedlings shipping at the beginning of spring.

“Hmm, what are the chances that they would have shishito peppers?”

Not only did they have them, but they had three different varieties to choose from!

Shishito pepper plant
Blistered shishito peppers are back on the menu!
Photo credit: Tracey Besemer

You know what else they had? The basil I completely forgot to start. (Again, moving.) They also had anise hyssop, which I have tried to start for three years in a row with no success.

Several weeks later, my seedlings arrived, packaged beautifully and thriving. While I still plan on starting seeds each year, I’m going to keep online seedlings tucked away in my gardening tool kit for emergencies.

But there are plenty of other reasons why ordering seedlings might be a good fit for you.

You Should Order Vegetable Seedlings Online If…

Mini greenhouse with seedlings
Not everyone has the space for a big seed-starting setup.
Photo credit: Tracey Besemer
  • Your local nursery or big box store doesn’t have a good selection of vegetable varieties.
  • You don’t have the room to start seedlings yourself in your home.
  • You have the room to start seedlings yourself but don’t want to deal with having an area of your home taken over by plants for several months.
  • You have mobility or transportation issues that make it hard for you to get to a local nursery.
  • You lost a few plants or had seeds that didn’t come up and you need to replace harder-to-find varieties.
  • You don’t want to or can’t fuss with caring for seedlings and want them to arrive right when it’s time to plant them.
  • You’ve had trouble successfully starting seeds yourself.

There are quite a few good reasons to take advantage of having seedlings shipped straight to your front door.

Of course, like with all things in life, ordering live plants does have a few negatives.

Side of cardboard box that reads live plants
Photo credit: Tracey Besemer

The Cons of Ordering Vegetable Seedlings Online

  • The seedlings might be a bit spendy in comparison to local prices. (For what I paid for a single plant, I could have had a four-pack locally. But as the plant I wanted wasn’t available locally, it was worth the extra expense.)
  • You have to pay for shipping. Most seed companies offer free shipping above a specific order threshold. If you’re planning on ordering all of your seedlings online, this might not be an issue for you.
  • You might not be able to find the variety you want.
  • You have no say over when your seedlings will arrive, which could be inconvenient.

In the end, ordering live transplants online is still a great option for your gardening needs. It depends on what your priorities are as to whether or not it’s worth it.

Seedlings packed in a box
My seedlings were packaged snuggly and safely.
Photo credit: Tracey Besemer

Companies that Offer Vegetable Seedlings Online

There are many more. Check out your favorite seed supplier to see if they offer live garden plants. You might be surprised to find they do.

Now, you’ve made the decision. You’ve ordered plants. What do you do when they get here?

What to Do When Your Seedlings Arrive

Row of seedlings unpacked after delivery
All seems to be in order.
Photo credit: Tracey Besemer

It’s important to pay attention to your email when you purchase seedlings online. You’ll be given a time frame in your order confirmation for when the seedlings will ship. (These dates coincide with your USDA hardiness zone.) As the ship date approaches, you’ll get another notification, as well as an email with a tracking number when your plants actually ship.

You’ll want to be home when your plants are delivered.

Not necessarily all day; you just don’t want to be out of town when your plants arrive. If you will be out of town, make plans for a friend or neighbor to pick up your plants.

Open your plants right away. Most companies offer some sort of warranty, but issues need to be reported within the first 24-48 hours of the plants being delivered.

Carefully remove all of the protective packaging and inspect your plants.

Your plants will most likely come with post-delivery care instructions tucked in with them. It’s a good idea to read through these as they will have instructions for what to do if your plants were damaged during transit.

Are your plants a little wilted?

Depending on the weather and how long your plants have been traveling, the soil may have dried out a bit. Give the seedlings a drink of water and set them where they can drain completely. Healthy seedlings will bounce back within a few hours.

If you’re growing seedlings indoors, do not put your new seedlings among them. Keep them quarantined for a week or two to ensure they don’t have any pests or diseases that could be transferred to your other plants.

Put your plants where they will receive plenty of light, and continue to water them as necessary until you’re ready to plant them outdoors.

Don’t forget to harden off your seedlings before planting them outside. They will need a few days to acclimate to conditions outdoors.

Seedlings on a table outdoors in the sun
Photo credit: Tracey Besemer

And that’s all there is to it. Purchasing vegetable seedlings online is a great way to add variety and convenience to your gardening season.

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Tracey Besemer

Hey there, my name is Tracey. I’m the editor-in-chief here at Rural Sprout.

Many of our readers already know me from our popular Sunday newsletters. (You are signed up for our newsletters, right?) Each Sunday, I send a friendly missive from my neck of the woods in Pennsylvania. It’s a bit like sitting on the front porch with a friend, discussing our gardens over a cup of tea.

Originally from upstate NY, I’m now an honorary Pennsylvanian, having lived here for the past 18 years.

I grew up spending weekends on my dad’s off-the-grid homestead, where I spent much of my childhood roaming the woods and getting my hands dirty.

I learned how to do things most little kids haven’t done in over a century.

Whether it was pressing apples in the fall for homemade cider, trudging through the early spring snows of upstate NY to tap trees for maple syrup, or canning everything that grew in the garden in the summer - there were always new adventures with each season.

As an adult, I continue to draw on the skills I learned as a kid. I love my Wi-Fi and knowing pizza is only a phone call away. And I’m okay with never revisiting the adventure that is using an outhouse in the middle of January.

These days, I tend to be almost a homesteader.

I take an eclectic approach to homesteading, utilizing modern convenience where I want and choosing the rustic ways of my childhood as they suit me.

I’m a firm believer in self-sufficiency, no matter where you live, and the power and pride that comes from doing something for yourself.

I’ve always had a garden, even when the only space available was the roof of my apartment building. I’ve been knitting since age seven, and I spin and dye my own wool as well. If you can ferment it, it’s probably in my pantry or on my kitchen counter. And I can’t go more than a few days without a trip into the woods looking for mushrooms, edible plants, or the sound of the wind in the trees.

You can follow my personal (crazy) homesteading adventures on Almost a Homesteader and Instagram as @aahomesteader.

Peace, love, and dirt under your nails,