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How To Care for Plugs on Arrival

How To Care for Plugs on Arrival

That long anticipated moment has arrived. Your plugs have been delivered! Now what? If this is a first-time experience for you, take a deep breath. It's all going to be okay. Here's everything you need to consider between unpacking and planting.

Unbox Immediately

Open your shipping box (preferably, outdoors) as soon as your plugs arrive.  Remove the trays from the box and remove their packing materials.  Place the trays on a clean bench, or on cardboard if you must put them on the ground. Transplant your plugs within one week of receipt. Plugs are ready to plant out upon arrival, assuming conditions are suited to the plant. If you cannot plant out your plugs out within one week, bump them up to 50 or 72 cell trays so they do not become rootbound. 

Be Prepared

Gro n' Sell does a fantastic job packing each and every tray of plugs they ship, with the goal of arrival in perfect shape. The vast majority of the time they arrive as happy as the moment they were placed in the box. That said, no amount of careful packing can prevent the occasional box from being dropped off of a truck, or turned upside down. You will, from time to time, receive plugs that have popped out of their trays and perhaps gotten jumbled. None of us want this, but it's a fact of shipping plants. It's frustrating, but seldom are the plants dead on arrival. If a few plugs jump out of their tray and still have an intact root ball, they can simply be popped back into the tray. If the root ball has become loose (as we often see in Lisianthus), you won't be able to simply put it back in the tray. You will need to repot; be ready with trays and potting mix. I like 50 or 72 cell trays for this purpose. 

If your plugs arrive in bad shape, take pictures and follow these directions for filing a claim. Photos are the only proof we have of damaged plugs and are required to be considered for a refund. Please let us know within 24 hours of arrival if you have received damaged plugs, or have other concerns with your order.

Hardening off

When they arrive, your trays have been in transit for two to four days, and were growing in a high tech greenhouse before they shipped. Use a bit of caution when exposing them to real life conditions. We have all heard of hardening off plants before transplanting. There are three main factors in transitioning a plant from its perfect greenhouse life to actual growing conditions. Sunshine, wind/dry air, and extreme temperatures are the main concerns in hardening off. Over a few days, expose your plugs to more and more natural light. Start them with a couple hours of morning and evening sun, increasing their exposure each day. By the third or fourth day they should have adjusted their leaves to your sun levels and will be ready for transplant. During this time they will also have adapted to your humidity levels and will be better able to manage their transpiration of water. Keep them out of strong dry winds during this period. Temperature is not as big of a concern as you may think it is. Most of the plugs we sell are frost hardy, but it is best to keep them above 32F while they are in the plug tray. Roots are more exposed in a tray than in the ground, so prevent freezing of new plugs for best results. Plugs that would survive in the ground may die in a tray, if allowed to freeze. (Tender summer annuals such as zinnia, cosmos, ageratum, gomphrena, celosia etc. should be kept above 55F at all times.) After a few days your plugs will be ready to transplant.

Can I skip hardening off?

There are three ways to skip hardening off. 

1. If you are growing in a high or low tunnel you don't need to worry about acclimating your plants. UV rays can't penetrate most tunnel/greenhouse covers and extreme wind and temperature are also moderated, so simply transplant on arrival.
2. If you are planting in the field, simply transplant, immediately irrigate with with a hose or sprinkler, and then cover with remay/frost cloth/agribon. This material increases humidity, buffers the sun's rays, and evens out extremes in temperatures. After a couple of weeks your plants should be growing well, and the fabric can come off.
3. If you are fairly sure you are going to have 2-3 days of cloudy or rainy weather, you can transplant without hardening off. This isn't always reliable as weather changes quickly, but sometimes you can get your plugs in the ground just before the rain sets in, and they will settle in quickly. In the darker shorter days of autumn hardening off can likely be skipped as well if the weather is cool and damp as the sun's rays are less intense.


How long do I have to transplant?

Ideally you will transplant your plugs within a week of arrival. They arrive ready to get out of their trays. The risk in holding them in the tray is that they can become rootbound which can result in a stunted plant that won't achieve its full size. Lisianthus, Stock, Larkspur, Bells of Ireland and Daucus/Ammi/Orlaya should be transplanted as soon as possible. Snapdragons, Delphinium, Foxglove, Poppies, and crops with more fibrous roots can be held off for a few more days, but keep in mind that all of your plugs are ready for more root space at the time they arrive. If you can't transplant into their final location within 7-10 days, bump them up into a 50 or 72 cell tray to buy yourself some time.


Make sure your soil is evenly moist before transplanting. Even if you plan to water immediately after transplant, planting into dry soil will result in fatalities. Similarly, make sure your plugs are very well-watered before transplanting. A dry plug has trouble taking up water and can quickly die. Drip irrigation is a wonderful thing. It reduces overall water usage, waters the soil and not the leaves thus reducing disease pressure, and is easy to control. The only time drip irrigation is not sufficient is at the time of transplant. Unless the plug is immediately next to a dripper, it won't be able to access that water. If you plant into black fabric, be aware that you have created a hot, dry environment that can kill a plug within hours if you plant on a sunny day. Once established, the plants seem to be fine, but at the tender plug stage you can inadvertently cook your babies. You must use a hose or sprinkler immediately after transplant to help the plugs roots find moisture in your soil. Without this soil contact and available moisture you plug cannot get established and will quickly perish. This may seem like common sense. Always water well at transplant, and use some source of overhead watering.

Lisianthus specific tips

You can read MUCH more about growing Lisianthus here, but always keep fusarium in mind when you are working with Lisianthus. It is almost everywhere in the outdoor environment and you can infect your tray on arrival simply by setting the tray on the ground, or on top of a bed of soil before transplant. I always take my Lisianthus plugs from the box and place them directly on a clean bench surface in our greenhouse until I'm ready to transplant. I do recommend drenching Lisianthus plugs with a biofungicide or fungicide before transplant. 

Great cut flowers start with healthy, actively growing seedlings. Spend a little extra time giving them proper care, and you are well on your way to a high quality, high profit harvest!

1 comment on How To Care for Plugs on Arrival

  • Maggie Smith
    Maggie SmithMay 16, 2024

    Would you please recommend a biofungicide or fungicide to protect these beautiful plugs?
    Thank you!
    Farmer Bailey Inc. replied:
    Hi Maggie! For plants that are prone to fungal diseases like fusarium, we suggest drenches of biofungicides like RootShield, PreFence, or Actinovate. Here’s a guide for RootShield from the maker, BioWorks:

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