So when I started gardening in Santa Fe the last frost date was May 15th….this year however it was more like April 15th!! Crazy….But I am still cautious of putting my little starts outside and if you too have waited, dotting over those tiny creatures in your window sill as I have, or worked hard to make money to buy those babies….you want to make sure they have a good strong transition into the great wide open wilderness of your garden from the climate controlled nest from which they are pushed. So as you prepare for the final transplant, here are a few tips to help those babies along.
#1-SIZE DOES MATTER– Though it may be transplanting time, are your plants ready to transplant is a really good question to ask – Plants do have an optimum size for transplanting– if it is too big the root to shoot ratio will be way out of proportion and the roots will be circling in the bottom of the pot or the top growth toppling over, many more times higher than the depth of the pot. In this case plant ASAP and you can also do a little root stimulation to break those pot bound roots out of their tangle, even trimming roots if necessary and prune back the top foliage. If you haven’t purchased plants yet– please don’t buy things that seem top heavy, and though is pretty, NEVER buy something in flower or fruit stage. If it is flowering in a pot it is probably stressed and will continue to be in your garden. Most thing will tolerate a little pruning back, if it is an annual crop and few clean pinches with clean finger nails should do the trick.
Now If a plant is too small–If a plant is too small for transplanting it will not yet have it’s second set of true leaves and seem very tender.
Adequate ‘root knit’ is also a sign your plant is ready, meaning the roots hold the soil(at appropriate moisture, see below) when removed from the pot. Root to Shoot ratio means that the plants has equal root and vegetation growth.
#2-HARDENING OFF- is a process of transitioning your plants from inside to outside taking anywhere from 3-25 days. You can begin bringing the plants out for a couple of hours each day in a nice shady, cool spot. Then maybe a few more hours adding direct sunlight, even placing them where you might plant them. Remember, plants in pots dry out quicker than those in the ground, so keep an eye on them so they don’t dry out. Little by little, lengthen the days and then add few nights. Once they have spent a few night outside their cell walls should be acclimated, and hardened enough to be planted in your garden. If you don’t have time to harden things off, see below for ways to protect them in harsh conditions after planting in TAKE COVER.
#3-MOISTURE LEVEL– You don’t want the soil in you pots to be dry and crumbly, nor just watered and thus muddy, moist to the touch, but not wet. The best bet is water well in the morning and plant in the evening. Your roots should hold the soil together enough so that you are planting a soil mass and not bare roots.
#4-SPACING-You will have in mind how far apart you plants should, be but sometimes you are so eager to get them in the ground you end up with a mess. I like to mark out my rows with string, that way as I am planting I just plant along the string and measure with my trowel according the to space I want.
You can also, as a school garden teacher passed on, measure and mark every spot with a popsicle stick, before you plant, that way you get to plant twice! Exciting if you are a kid gardener. You can of course plant here and there and everywhere, but keep in mind how big your plants will get when planting, they look little now but just wait till September!! Also irrigation lines, if you are adding them, are linear and can only bend so much, so laying the lines and then planting where the water drips out is a perfect way to get it right.
#5- TIME OF DAY-Think cool and crisp. I like to transplant in the evening, so peaceful and lovely….some prefer early morning..Or during the day when the shade hits your garden..When ever you choose, try to make sure it is Cool, crisp and the plants will not be in direct sunlight very long. These days we have had some clouds rolling in and that is perfect for transplanting.
#6- WIND PROTECTION– Spring winds can be fierce and take a toll on young plants, especially those that have never experienced it before inside. You can’t always predict or work around the winds in spring, but you can protect your plants in a few ways.
Homemade Cloches (glass covers for plants) work well. Just cut a plastic bottles bottom off and place over the plant after transplanting. You can leave it on for a week or so until you notice the plant has really taken hold and is showing new growth.
You can also add floating row cover for protection from wind, bird, bug, etc…This is basically making a mini hoop house over your bed with wire hoops and woven fabric. I believe the Row cover is sold by the yard at Plants of the Southwest and the wire is 19 gauge wire you buy in rolls at the hardware store, I found mine at Lowe’s in the back of the garden section with the fencing supplies. I fasten the cover to the hoops with clothes pins and pile dirt or rocks where it meets the ground. If the wind gets underneath it, it will take off like a sail. Here is a video on Using Row Covers from Johnny’s Seed Co to get the full idea.
#7- WATER-Water well, really well- The soil into which you plant should be pre-moisten, not a mud hole, but moist. I like to water the morning before transplanting, so the soil has a bit of time to absorb the water. If you can’t do that go ahead and water first, then plant. Once your plant is in the ground, water the plant daily, or twice daily, for about a week until you see it thriving, then you can taper off down your irrigation schedule. If you are using a cloche, it does create a mini greenhouse so make sure the plant stays moist in there.
#8- DEPTH-Pretty intuitive, but do make sure you plant your plant at the same soil level as it was in the pot. You can make a little moat around your plant too so that the water will pool around it and not runoff, but seep in slowly around the roots.
#9- FERTIGATE– Meaning add liquid fertilizer to a watering can, and give a little to each transplant. This vitamin boost will help them along in the transition. I use Super thrive and liquid seaweed or Kelp Extract. Remember a little goes and long way!! (dilution recommendations are on the bottles)
#10-WHO TO TRANSPLANT— Every seed packet comes with a recommendation for your plants, but in the case that you inherited all home saved seed and don’t know where to begin.
GENERALLY (there are always exceptions)
I like to transplant ( Heat loving Crops)
Tomatoes, Basil, Peppers, Eggplant, Cabbage, Broccoli,
I like to direct seed ( Large Seeded Crops & Roots)
Large Seeded Crops: Corn,Beans,Squash
Root Crops: Carrots, Beets, Parsnips, Turnips, Rutabega, Kolrabi, Potato, Radish,
Hearty Crops: Dill, Kale, Chard, Arugula, Leeks
Things that don’t transplant well: Spinach, Cilantro, Peas
Exceptions: Onions (though onion sets are transplanted and do wonderfully here) Lettuce does well direct seeded, though I do transplant lettuce for early crops,
Summer Squash, Melons, and Cucumber are traditionally planted direct seed, but I have had great luck transplanting them.
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