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Roger Doiron
What's the best way to transplant my veggie starts?


You'll need to start by "hardening off" your plants, i.e. gradually exposing them to outdoor conditions over the course of a few days so that they can adjust to the strength of the daytime sun and cool temperatures at night. Once you've hardened them off, water them thoroughly on the day they're going to go into the garden. Starting at one end of the row, begin digging holes and setting plants in place. Make each planting hole about the same depth as but slightly wider than the transplant's soil ball, and firm the soil gently around each plant when you set it in the ground. Leave a shallow depression around each transplant, so water can collect. If the soil is at all dry or the weather is sunny (transplanting on a cloudy or rainy cool day is best), water each plant as you go. Especially if the weather is sunny, provide shade to protect transplants until they've adjusted. Upturned bushel baskets, pieces of lattice propped along the row, or burlap draped over supports are all easy ways to provide a bit of shade. If you haven't been watering each plant as it went into the ground, be sure to water the entire row thoroughly once you're finished. It's also a good idea to install a cutworm collar around each seedling as you plant. Reprinted from The Veggie Gardener's Answer Book Copyright 2008 by Barbara W. Ellis, with permission from Storey Publishing. Image credit: Roger Doiron

Question details

There's more -- speaking from five years as a professional gardener with annual & perennial flowers & vegetables -- 1. First take a look at the roots of your transplants -- one plant of a flat or 6-pack will be typical, you don't need to see all of them in a first inspection. Ideally the roots will be visible at the edge of the soil ball. But often commercial transplants will be root-bound & you will see roots wound around the planting cavity, or even a plug that is solid white roots. I have photos of such -- This plant will need help to get roots out to grow & thrive. Often in spring-cleanup of gardens we found that any dead "perennial" plants proved to have a hard little root-bound plug instead of a spreading root system --these poor unfortunates were not planted by us! Most of the bound roots on a transplant will have to GO & wherever you break the remaining roots, the ends will sprout new roots -- for a spreading support & feeding system for the plant. PP Some planters advise just roughing up the root ball with your thumbs, or breaking the bottom of the root-ball apart & spreading it into the planting hole. This may work for temp gardening crews in "show" garden beds of annual flowers. I prefer to use a very sharp, sterile knife & cut the roots & flake them away until the growing roots are exposed & cut to form new root ends. By "cut" I mean cut vertically about 1/8" into the root ball, on each side of the root ball. As for the sharp knife, which method of surgery would YOU prefer? Plants ARE sensient, in their own way. "The Secret Life of Plants" is important background information for fully appreciating gardening. PP When I have to operate on root-bound plants this much, I prep big batches before i plant them. Each cut-root plant goes right into a pan of water with rooting-hormone -- to help offset the surgery shock AND prime the plant for the growth spurt before new roots are really out & working. The transplant stays in the rooting-hormone water if it is going in the soil the same day, or goes back into the flats after a soak if more time elapses until planting. Using this much care pays off -- I have never personally seen a case of "transplant shock" beyond what a day of shading will cure. PP Personally, I like to water my transplants the day BEFORE planting so they are really solidly hydrated & ready to go. And if flats of transplants have grown quite a canopy of leaves, you will probably want to water them by sitting down on an upturned pail & plunging several plants at a time into another pail of water until the root-balls stop absorbing water & bubbling air. PP The ideal time to plant is later in the afternoon, so that the plant has less light-stress while adapting to its new locale. Watering a day ahead, and then "watering-in" as you plant, to connect the plant-roots with the new planting hole, works well! PP I have planted in THE worse-case-scenario & put in a month-long planting of thousands? of full-blooming perennial plants in 97-degree sunny, windy weather. We went from zero to a garden that looked 3-years-old! The location was prominent & the planting process became a tourist destination & picnic area with fans viewing the planting choreography. What saved the garden from utter ruin was running 3-4 hoses out with misters on the ends & fogging mist 24/7 for the hot, windy planting period. I am happy to say that all of the plants thrived & increased & can be seen to this day. Although this was a 4-season-color perennial flower garden with some herbs & some flowering shrubs -- any of these methods would improve transplanting success in hot and/or windy weather. 2. i was going to add another point but this has gotten over-long! I will close by saying you might now want to be sure to inspect commercial transplants before you buy them! :-)



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