How to Transplant Seedlings

Gardening guru Barbara Pleasant offers these handy tips and instructions for how to transplant seedlings to your garden bed successfully.

| March/April 2012

1. When transplanting seedlings, help plants adjust to outdoor conditions by “hardening off” over a period of a week or two. You want to introduce seedlings to bright light and sheltered breezes gradually, which you can do on your deck or patio or within a protected enclosure in the garden. Begin by setting your seedlings outside in a sheltered spot for two hours one day and four hours the next, gradually increasing until they have made it through several days and nights in the outdoor world.

2. While your seedlings are hardening off, prepare soil with organic amendments such as compost or organic fertilizer to encourage the growth of root-friendly organisms and the availability of nutrients.

3. When you’ve finished hardening off your seedlings, it’s time to transplant. Check the weather before you begin: It’s helpful to have some cloud cover or light rain during the first few days after transplanting. Delay transplanting seedlings if a heat wave is on the way, or if the soil is clammy and cold. Meanwhile, make sure the seedlings are well-hydrated and amply fed going into the transplant. Drench them with a weak solution of organic fertilizer the day before transplanting and again just before you remove them from their pots.

4. Handle seedlings with care. Push them out of their containers from the bottom rather than pulling them out by their stems. Handle the freed plant by its root ball (a large spoon is great for this), and avoid touching the main stem. As you set the plant in its permanent home, use the lowest leaves as handles. Should they break off, it’s no big deal. As a general rule, it’s best to keep as much soil packed around the root ball as possible. Exceptions are seedlings whose roots have grown into a solid mass. To encourage these frustrated roots to grow outward into surrounding soil, use a fork or your fingers to tease out a few outer roots. Finish the transplanting process by drenching the soil with water.

5. Cover the newly planted seedlings with upturned flowerpots, cardboard boxes or buckets for a few days to help the roots gain a good foothold. In hot weather, opt for a piece of lightweight cloth held aloft with stakes. Keep the covers on for at least two days after transplanting. Increase to four or five days if the weather is very sunny, windy or cold, or if the plants’ roots were damaged as you set them out. Remove the covers, and then pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

To learn the best times to plant your seedlings, check out the original article, “Garden Planting Guide: When to Plant Seeds and Seedlings for Your Region.”

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