Planting seedlings into your backyard garden is a crucial step in your gardening season.
Doing it right – and at the right time – will help to get your garden off to a great start
How do you decide when the time is right for transplanting seedlings?
Well, if you’re growing your own seedlings, you’ve already pretty much made that decision.
Once your plants are large enough to plant outdoors, you won’t have a lot of flexibility in your timing.
If you delay too long, your plants will begin to suffer from crowding and the confinement of their growing container.
But on the other hand, there’s no point in rushing them. You might as well let them get to an adequate size before planting them outside.
So if you’re growing your own transplants, you’ll have a fairly narrow window in which the timing is optimum for transplanting.
But if you’re buying your seedlings, you can go to the nursery and get them whenever you’re ready to plant (assuming you don’t wait too late, of course!).
Either way, once you and your plants are ready, let Mother Nature cast the deciding vote about whether to proceed or wait a bit longer.
Before planting seedlings, find out what the weather guessers are predicting for the next several days. The most obvious danger is freezing. But if a deluge of rain and storms is forecast for the next several days, you might as well wait that out as well.
Unless there’s a pressing need to get the plants out, why not dodge all of the weather bullets that you can? After all, Mother Nature will be shooting plenty of weather bullets at your garden throughout the season. Might as well avoid them while you’re able!
This assumes, of course, that you do not want to get your plants out as early as possible, in spite of the risk of frost damage.
Putting your plants out early enough so that you know you’re risking encounters with frost can be well worth doing. You can substantially extend your season, and therefore your potential harvest. But the obvious risk is that you could also end up dramatically shortening your season! Of course, you can cut the risk by only putting a portion of your plants out early.
If you do decide to throw down the gauntlet in challenge of Mother Nature, there are plenty of things you can do to protect your seedlings from a brief cold snap.
Once you’ve decided that the timing is right, and you’ve hardened off your seedlings, then you’re finally ready to plant.
Some of the specifics about soil preparation, spacing, and planting techniques will be dependant upon the type of plant you’re transplanting. For each type of crop I discuss here on this website, I’ll be sure to provide that information.
But here are a few tips that will apply to planting seedlings of any type:
Don’t Let The Roots Dry Out...
And that can happen very quickly, especially if you’re planting small seedlings or plugs from flats. As you’re working, be sure that your seedling flats or containers don’t remain in the sun for a long time.
If you can, find a shady spot to place your seedlings in as they await transplanting.
And be sure the seedlings are well watered before bringing them out to the garden. If the garden soil is dry, water it before planting – not just after. Dry soil can wick the moisture out of a seedling’s root ball very quickly.
Also, be sure that soil completely covers the root ball of the seedling, and that the soil is tamped down all around it. Even an underground air pocket exposing part of the root ball to air can cause the root ball to dry out. Watering the seedling after planting will help to settle the soil around the root ball.
Choose a Cloudy Day For Planting...
If you are planting seedlings on an overcast day, you can minimize the amount of stress that they are subjected to. If it’s time to plant, and there’s nothing forecast but bright, sunny days, planting in the evening will be less stressful to the seedlings.
Be Gentle in Removing The Seedlings From The Container...
Whether your seedlings are in individual pots or in flats, pulling the seedling by the stem is NOT the way to remove it from the container.
Instead, place your hand over the top of the container with the stem between your fingers, and turn the container upside down. With your other hand, gently tap or press on the bottom of the container to release the seedling. You may need to also press in gently on the sides of the container to help work the seedling loose.
If the seedling is in a flat with other seedlings, then of course you’ll need to take care that the other seedlings don’t fall out or get damaged in the process.
Once the seedling is out of the container, handle it gently by the root ball, not by the stem. And handle it as little as possible
Water Frequently And Deeply...
Until the seedling’s roots begin to grow out and down, its only source of moisture will be the soil immediately surrounding the root ball. So for the first several days after planting seedlings, you’ll need to be sure to water them frequently.
When you begin to see new growth on the plants, then you can be sure that the roots are growing. You can begin to reduce the frequency of watering in favor of watering more deeply. Deep waterings will encourage the plants to expand their root zones.
With your seedlings safely transplanted into your garden, you’re well on your way to having a successful, enjoyable gardening season.