Growing plants from plugs

pippi21(Z7 Silver Spring, Md.)November 8, 2010

I've often been fascinated by hearing people speak of growing plants from plugs. Are these just for commercial growers or can a home gardener order plugs. I just was looking at the Harris seed website..and saw where they sell plugs/liners. What are the liners for? My understanding is that when a home gardener orders plugs they are shipped in packs and then you replant them in larger pots like 3 or 4 inch. nursery pots until they are large enough and weather favorable for planting. Is my assumption correct? How do you find out if the seed company sells plugs to the home gardener? Another question I had about buying plugs is that if plugs are grown "under lights?"

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OK, I'm a commercial grower, so I'll explain. Plugs are tiny little seedlings started by seed. Some perennials are easily seed started, and so they'd be sown in plug trays to grow on large enough for sale. That doesn't necessarily mean they're large however. LOL. Some plug trays have over five hundred cells in them and the seedlings are barely more than emerged.

Liners are short for lining out stock. They got that name because perennials used to be typically lined out in rows to grow on until large enough for sales. Many still are done like that. So, if you bought a liner of plants, you are buying plants what are rooting cuttings, already planted in a cube of soil but very small. They are typically larger than plugs, and are vegetatively reproduced.

If you have a home greenhouse, there is no reason you won't have success with plugs or liners. Both are plants you might lose if you planted them directly into the soil outside. No, if you have natural light in a greenhouse you won't need lights to grow them on. But, if you are planning on growing them on in your home, yes, you may need some sort of light system.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2010 at 6:57AM
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Here in zone 9 we will plant our plugs in six pack cells out in the open usually on tables (for the gardeners benefit, not the plants). We get between two and three thousand plugs in April from a grower about 400 miles away. They always ship to avoid any delays or weekends. Each tray we order will contain anywhere between 144 and 500. The grower decides depending on the variety which to use. The trays are all the same physical size to accommodate the growers equipment. The grower will sell to anyone who is willing to order a minimum order. We are a garden club that grows for a July/August fair exhibit. All of our plants are displayed in one gallon nursery pots, either 2 or 3 per gallon. Our cost per plug is between 10 to 15 cents. Al

    Bookmark   November 9, 2010 at 10:23AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

here is the short story ... lol....

so many mom and pops nursery owners went blind trying to sow thousands of grains of sand .... aka seeds in little pots ... that someone came along and built a machine to plant the whole plug tray in one puff of air ...

unfortunately the machine cost so much ... that it was cheaper to sell the already sown and started plants in the plug tray

the one that intrigues me.. is the one centimeter [???] cells about the size of a cookie sheet ... i can not contemplate trying to plant 220 seeds by hand .... first pic at the link is as close as i can come ..

and that is where they start ... and then they just keep potting them up.. until the size you ultimately buy ...

the younger the plants.. the better the bargain ... but the harder it is going to be for the homeowner.. short of temp and humidity controlled greenhouses, as noted above ...

personally i just dont see the average homeowner needing a tray of 220 plants of the same thing ....

any common 4 or 6 pack you buy.. are technically plugs.. because you just plug them in the ground... but they start as small as 1 cm .. and have been transplanted.. or plugged ... many times by the time you get the 4 pack ...

in other words.. back to mom/pop ... its cheaper to buy the plug tray for $10 .. then hire 3 migrants to plant the tray ...

copy/paste this link to see a machine:


Here is a link that might be useful: link

    Bookmark   November 9, 2010 at 1:51PM
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Ten dollars for a plug tray? LOL Dream on.

Some of my plug tray cost upward of seventy five dollars and it all depends on what you are ordering and what the price of the seed would be.

When I first started in the business we did a large part of the spring line by seed and they're not sown in a plug tray but a large flat of starting media and then individually pricked out and transplanted directly to the finished flat. So, there weren't that many steps.

Sometimes a grower cannot find plugs in the varieties they need. I am in that situation this year and was obliged to start some lines by seed I'd rather have not. And then there are items, so easily grown from seed, that it's cost effective over plugs even factoring in the human element.

When starting seeds as opposed to plugs, you seldom 'plant' them. They're sown directly on the media sometimes covered and sometimes not covered and then humidity and heat controled.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2010 at 5:49PM
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pippi21(Z7 Silver Spring, Md.)

Thanks to all who responded to my message. So if I understand you all, garden centers or local nurseries may order plugs, then replanted them into cell packs and nurture them until they can be sold that way? I wonder if any nursery would take on a volunteer willing to work while they are learning more about raising plants from seeds? I know Home Depot gets shipments from several growers, but these are full size plants ready to sell. Those growers are the ones that start from seeds? I don't have a greenhouse or a "light system" so guess I'll continue wintersowing in milk jugs but buying plugs would be a good way for a garden club to supply their Spring and Fall plant sales, as long as they have some experienced home gardeners that may have a greenhouse or grows "under lights". I belong to a garden club that meets at a public gardens location, do you think those public gardens would have a volunteer program that would take on interest volunteers to help raise from seeds or cuttings? I would think a volunteer could learn a lot that way that they may not already know and it might be interesting to learn. It would certainly help wile away the winter blues, but I bet it is cold in those greenhouses, and that might not set too well with my Raynaud's syndrome.(cold feet!)

    Bookmark   November 10, 2010 at 9:59AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

yes.. of course i exaggerated ....

lets see .. 75 bucks.. divided by 220 .... 34 cents each ... or a buck 36 for a 4 pack.. that you might sell for 2 bucks.. nice margin ... if, of course.. they all live and you sell them all .. etc ...

but.. at that 60 cent margin.. it might take you 2 centuries to pay for the machine.. eh .... lol ..


    Bookmark   November 10, 2010 at 10:07AM
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If you are willing to work for nothing, or as a "volunteer" you should be able to find a non-profit, such as a native plant society, or university botanical garden that would be able to use your services. After my retirement I did that. Fortunately I worked with a retired nursery owner who could not "stop working" who was a storehouse of information,with a lifetime love of plants. Al

    Bookmark   November 10, 2010 at 12:12PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

of course.. on reflection .. the cost of the media.. plugs ... media.. heat .. greenhouse.. workers .... water .. that 60 cent margin probably shrinks to two pennys ...

making the machine cost prohibitive entirely ...


    Bookmark   November 10, 2010 at 4:06PM
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They are a major investment for a growing concern, and that is why most independents don't invest in them and leave it to g'houses who do nothing 'but' plug growing. You can add germination or sweat rooms to that to finish off the plugs and lights for those who need them. etc, etc, etc. That's why so many of us buy in plugs, liners or do by seed.

The really expensive plug trays are for items I usually sell in pots, so they can go pretty high high as the market can bear. LOL.

I've been in the business 23 years now, three as a grower for another concern and twenty for myself. factor in overhead and it's a biggie with fuel prices, then's not hard to have four figures in just the little plastic plant labels. Insurance. Advertising and hiring help. The profit margin is very tight and if you're not very good at what you do, and have a handle on running a business, the average length of life for a new g'house is about two years before they belly-up.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2010 at 9:48PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

super discourse calliope ....

now back to pippi's question .... is it worthwhile for the average homeowner ...

i would suggest.. the plants in the 2 cm cells ... most likely ... short of a greenhouse.. just arent going to be worthwhile.. no matter the bargain ...

and yes.. i do know of hosta clubs that buy bulk ... perhaps a tray of i dont know.. 24 or 40 or so ... pot them up in early spring.. one for each member.. for auctions.. etc .... bargains can be had .. and though they are more expensive than the tiny plants. ... they are big enough to take off, so as to have a nice plant later in summer ...

but often.. you have to figure out how to get around the wholesale issue .... but that is another post..

good luck


    Bookmark   November 11, 2010 at 9:23AM
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What companies will sell plug trays to non-commercial growers?

    Bookmark   March 30, 2014 at 1:31PM
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kimka(Zone 6B)

Green Mountain Transplants out of Vermont then Maine used to be the closest thing to a company that sold to the public the way a wholesaler sell to nurseries. They would let you order a 72 cell or a 32 cell flat filled with a mix of perennials and annuals from their list ( a min. of three of a kind) The prices were great.

But the people who ran it just weren't organized enough and It went under some time back. It was supposed to be coming back in 2012, I think. But I never heard of it getting set up again. Too bad. It was a great was to get a bunch of stuff if you didn't have the patience or greenhouse to start the tiny seeds or the money for the seed starting setup.

Anybody know of any other companies?

    Bookmark   April 3, 2014 at 4:10PM
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Try Northcreek Nurseries

    Bookmark   April 3, 2014 at 5:11PM
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