Vegetable Seedling Identification: A Visual Guide

When the weeds start sprouting in your garden, it can be quite a challenge to differentiate between vegetable seedlings and weed seedlings. To make things easier for you, we have put together a visual guide with pictures and descriptions of some common vegetable seedlings, so you can identify them accurately and nurture them properly.

First Leaves vs. True Leaves

Most vegetable seedlings initially develop two leaves called cotyledons or seed leaves. These cotyledons do not resemble the leaves of the mature plant and serve as energy reserves for the young plant. Differentiating between seedlings and weeds can be tricky during this stage. However, once the true leaves start emerging, which usually takes a few weeks, you will notice distinct characteristics that help in identification. Eventually, the cotyledons will wither away as the true leaves take over.

Vegetable Seedling Identification: Pictures and Descriptions

Let’s dive into our visual guide and explore some of the easiest vegetables to grow from seed.

Beans (Pole and Bush)

Bean seedlings have heart-shaped cotyledons, and their true leaves are smooth-edged, arranged three to a stem, with two leaves opposite each other and one above.

Bean seedling


Beet seedlings have smooth, oblong green leaves on red or pinkish/purple stems. It’s common to have multiple seedlings growing from one beet “seed,” so thinning them may be necessary.

Beet seedlings

Broccoli (and Cauliflower)

Broccoli and cauliflower seedlings develop two kidney-shaped cotyledons before their true leaves emerge. The true leaves are more rounded and may have vaguely serrated edges.

Broccoli seedling


Carrot seedlings have tall and thin cotyledons, similar to blades of grass. The true leaves have a distinctive, fern-like shape.

Carrot seedlings


Cucumber seedlings have oval cotyledons, much like squash plants. However, their true leaves are triangular and lobed, with serrated edges. As the vine grows, delicate tendrils will help it climb.

Cucumber seedling


Kale seedlings come in various varieties, with either smooth or ruffled true leaves. The seed leaves may peek above the soil within a week, and once they reach five inches tall, thinning them to a foot apart is beneficial.

Kale seedlings


Kohlrabi seedlings resemble other members of the Brassica family, such as broccoli and cauliflower, until their first true leaves appear. The true leaves of kohlrabi have deeply serrated edges and are more pointed than rounded.

Kohlrabi seedling


Lettuce seedlings come in many varieties, each with its distinct leaf characteristics. The appearance of the seedlings depends on whether the lettuce will have soft or stiff leaves, loose or bunched. Consistent watering and cooler temperatures work best for lettuce seedlings.

Lettuce seedling


Pea seedlings do not show cotyledons above the ground. Instead, they develop oval leaflets with tendrils that eagerly twine around supports as they grow.

Pea seedlings


Pumpkin seedlings may resemble squash, watermelon, or cucumber seedlings due to their common family, the cucurbits. The seed leaves of pumpkins are large, flat, and rounded, resembling small elephant ears.

Pumpkin seedling


Radish seedlings have smooth, heart-shaped cotyledons that transition into elongated and scalloped or gently serrated true leaves. Radishes are fast-growing and can be ready to eat in just a few weeks.

Radish seedlings

Squash (Summer and Winter)

Different types of squash seedlings have variations in their leaves as they grow. Summer squash develops prickly, semi-triangular, and jagged-edged leaves. Winter squash leaves are broader and more rounded, with a hairy but non-prickly texture.

Squash (zucchini) seedlings

Swiss Chard

Chard seedlings typically produce one to three seedlings per seed cluster. They have narrow seed leaves and stems that can appear in different colors, including red, white, yellow, or orange.

Swiss chard seedlings


Tomato seedlings have long and narrow seed leaves, which are similar to the leaves of the mature plant. The true leaves often have asymmetrical lobes and can be lined with small hairs.

Tomato seedling

Learn More About Gardening

If you’re passionate about gardening and want to explore more about growing vegetables, herbs, flowers, and more, check out our extensive library of Growing Guides. We also have a guide dedicated to identifying common weeds to help you maintain a weed-free garden.

Happy gardening and happy seedling identification!