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How long can you hold seedlings in flats?

Brussels sprout seedling

Usually, I like to get baby plants into the ground as soon as possible. But I've been holding over fall crops, trying to decide whether to give them away or save them for our new homestead. And, in the process, I collected some data on how long crucifers can hang out in flats without starting to complain.

Of course, the answer to this question depends not just on the type of plant you're growing, but also on the type of soil and the number of cells in the flat. More cells = smaller root zone = shorter happy time for baby plants.

With that caveat aside, here's some data for you. I started the Brussels sprouts pictured at the top of this post on May 15, nearly three solid months ago. And (using the slow-release fertilizer in the store-bought potting soil), they're still thriving in their 54-cell flats.

Nutrient-deficient broccoli

Broccoli, on the other hand, went into a 72-cell flat with the same soil on June 16...and they were already starting to complain six weeks later. Looks like it would have been much cleverer to use  larger cell sizes for seedlings intended to be held over, especially if they're as hungry as greedy broccoli plants. Live and learn!

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