Guest Author - Amelia Tucker
If you are like most herbal gardeners, you have a long list of things you want to plant and either your growing season is too short or you just do not have luck germinating your seeds. There are ways around both of these issues and it is plugs or plants.
When purchasing your herbs, you can oftentimes buy something called plugs. These are small plantlings, with a long finger of soil material attached. These plugs are ready to transplant into larger pots as soon as you receive them. Plugs are the answer to a short growing season. They have germinated and successfully sprouted into healthy babies before you even get them, cutting out weeks of time in some cases. You will have to treat even some of these herbs as annuals, but you will be able to harvest your own. I have grown Patchouli successfully in upstate NY many times and frankly, there is not any herb that I feel are inaccessible to me using this great planting tool.
Plants are an even larger jump on the growing season. They are an older version of the same herbs. They are of course, more expensive and you will not be buying them in flats of 6-12 or 50 as I do for the greenhouse. You will find that a plant if usually an older plug that has been repotted and is still thriving. I would recommend this type of purchase for those things that you must have or really want to try before you invest in a flat. I also have used plants in a pinch of a customer has ordered some finished product that I have oversold or that has failed for some reason.
When buying live plants in this way, you must be extra careful to order from suppliers that have a strong following and excellent customer service history. Ask other herbalists and gardeners who they recommend. Check the return policy and other fine print. I have had companies that promise a great return policy but their idea of my zone shipping dates and MY idea were weeks away from one another. By the time I received my plugs, they were multiple weeks behind others that I started from seed because the company sent them far too late.
Something else you may find out of the ordinary is seedtapes and buying by the ounce. Seedtapes are often found in vegetable seeds. You can sometimes found herbs done that way. Seedtapes are actual dissolving paper with seeds spaced nicely along the strip. you plant the entire strip and the moisture from watering dissolves the strip, leaving nice, even rows. I have made these for years using my own seeds and dissolving sewing tape. Just moisten the tape lightly (I mist mine), and place your seeds in an even manner along the length of it. Let dry and then plant the entire strip. Works every time and you are not thinning precious herb seedlings.
Finally, you can purchase seeds by the ounce, half ounce and so on. These are often such tiny seeds that you will end up with zillions of them. If you keep them properly from year to year, they will remain viable for some time. I have some seeds that are 5 years old and still growing every time I plant. Yes, the germination rate goes down but when I have 100 yarrow seeds and only want 25 plants, I am surely going to get at least that many. I do not recommend overbuying seeds of course, I am just terribly thrifty and hate to throw any away.
I hope this helps you choose some new and exciting herbs for this year's garden!