There are lots of different options in plant sizes and containers when purchasing transplants. Which is better -- a four-pack of tomatoes or a large plant? This segment discusses how to get the best return on your investment.

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Selecting the Best Transplant

When you go to your garden center, you’ll probably notice that there are different options as far as sizes of plants and the sizes of the containers. And you have to decide if it’s worth the money to select the larger plant. Some people like to have the instant gratification of instant tomatoes, or in the case of this plant, automatically having a pepper plant. But is that really the best choice, and is it the best use of your money?

This four-pack of peppers cost the same as this one single plant. And so, while this one does have a pepper, the plant has expended so much energy producing that one pepper. Whereas, these smaller plants will be able to grow a bigger plant in that same amount of time.

In the case of the tomatoes, again – here is a little four-pack of tomatoes. They’re very nice, small, compact tomatoes. And then, here we have a two and half quart container. This pot actually costs four times as much as this four pack did. But in the end, I’ll be able to produce four times as many tomatoes in total as I will from this one single plant. So as far as my budget is concerned, it’s a much better return on my investment to spend less money and buy the smaller plants.

When we’re looking at transplants, for instance with four-packs, there are a few tips that you’ll want to keep in mind as you’re selecting those plants. First of all, you’ll want to look for a nice dark green color. Look for a plant that’s sturdy and appears to have been well grown. It should be nice, tight, and compact like the tomatoes that you see here.

I have another pack of tomatoes, and you’ll notice that these are really long, lanky and spindly. These tend to whip around a lot in the wind. There is a lot of space in the internodes which shows that they grew quickly. It may have been under lower light and didn’t have as good of nutrition. So, I’m willing to bet that these small tomatoes that are more compact are going to produce a bigger, bushier and healthier plant than those that are actually taller, but more lanky.

When you get home with your transplants, and you’re ready to plant them in the ground, give them a little protection for the first few days. For instance, you can take some lath or shingles, and put it on all four sides of the plant to give it a little protection from the wind and the sun. Also, make sure that you water them in well with a weak fertilizer solution such as a starter solution. This will give them a boost to get them up and going.

Oftentimes, you may want to pinch some of the flower buds that are on a transplant so that they spend all of their energy into making a bigger, bushier plant – especially with flowering plants. So, you’ll want to remove those if at all possible.

If your plants were grown in a peat pot or a paper pot, you may be able to plant with the container in the ground. But, you’ll need to make sure to completely tear off the upper edge – especially with peat pots. Make sure that there isn’t a paper pot or peat pot edge that’s exposed above the soil line because it will act as a wick and it will draw the moisture up out of the soil and away from the plant.

So, as you go to your garden center or nursery and select your transplants for your garden, remember to look for a nice, healthy plant. And, a smaller plant may actually be a better investment than the larger plant.

This feature story prepared with Evelyn Neier, Kansas State University Research and Extension 4-H Youth Development. For more information, visit your local county extension office or visit our website at

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