Vegetable Garden

How to identify seedlings

May 23, 2013

Do you know your lettuce from your parsnip seedlings?

seeds and weeds

Spot the coriander
(it’s the serrated leaf on the uppermost seedling at the top of the picture, the bottom seedling is a nettle)

Most gardeners like to feel they can identify their favourite plants but when they’re at their itsy bitsy tiny seedling stage, with only their first two seed leaves (known as the cotyledons) it’s a challenge.

Lots of seedlings look the same when they only have two leaves and in many cases it’s not until they’ve developed their next set of leaves, or their ‘true’ leaves, that it becomes clear what plants they will grow up to become.

Cotyledon leaves

Would you be able to spot the difference without the labels?

Often plants from the same vegetable families will look remarkably similar as seedlings, which is no surprise as their seeds and flowers are very similar too. 

Parsley flowers top, hedgrow cow parsley bottom. Members of Apiaceae familey

Parsley flowers top, hedgerow cow parsley bottom. Members of Apiaceae family


One of the reasons we sow seeds in rows AND LABEL THEM is so that we can distinguish the seeds from the weeds.

I’m no angel here… it’s something I constantly have to remind myself to do, though weeding out an entire sowing of Florence fennel a couple of years ago might finally have cured me of my haphazard habits.


So if I can share any lesson today about how to name seedlings its label, label, label and that means every single pot and every single module if your tray of seedlings has more than one type of seed.

Label SeedlingsUse lollypop sticks, make plastic labels by cutting up milk cartons or even shave the bark off a twig and write on it if you want to avoid the plastic markers that are available in garden centres, but whatever you do label USING A PERMANENT MARKER. Pencil, felt pen or biro all WASH OFF.

If you don’t you may find you’ll be eating lettuce with your roast potatoes…

Lettuce seedling

Lettuce seedling (thanks for the inspiration for this post @GardenerGareth & @DavidCorscadden)




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