One of the most common complaints this time of year is, “How do I transplant seedlings so they don’t die?” I hear this in the grocery store lines and in my online gardening classes. So, tell me. Does this sound familiar?
• You buy (or grow) seedlings
• Then transplant them in the garden
• Plants wilt and die a few days later
• You start over
You’re not alone. Happens to the best of us.
Today I’m going to share some good-to-know tips so you can prevent seedling die-off and avoid having to return to the garden center with a brown bag over your head.
First and foremost, you need to think like a plant. Now hear me out. How would you like it if, all of a sudden, someone yanked you off the couch, where you were watching your favorite PBS documentary, and plopped you onto a couch where it was cold, breezy, perhaps raining?
You’d be uncomfortable and shocked. Before you even think of yanking a seedling out of its cozy container, give them 24-hour notice. Let them know, verbally or mentally, what you plan to do. Before that, you have some work to do, starting with:
PREPARE THE GARDEN AND THE PLANTS
• Loosen and amend soil. Your garden soil may have become compacted over winter, so loosen and aerate the soil before planting. Remove any rocks or weeds. Work in plenty of organic matter to the top few inches to allow seedlings to become established in their new home.
• Harden-off plants. The purpose of hardening-off seedlings is to get them better accustomed to eventually living full-time outdoors.
Any seedlings or starter-plants that are coming from the indoors must go through a gradual transition. No matter how well you prepare them however, they go through a period of shock. You might not be able to see it; or it might be obvious and fatal.
By the way, for plants who are already accustomed to outdoor life, go to Step 2. Remember to give your seedlings 24-hour notice before starting the hardening-off process.
Start by watering the seedlings thoroughly. Then, 7 to 10 days before transplanting, set the seedlings outdoors in dappled shade that is protected from wind for a few hours each day, gradually increasing their exposure to full sun and windy conditions. (You may need to bring them back indoors occasionally, especially at the beginning).
Keep the soil moist at all times during the hardening-off period. Dry air and breezes can result in rapid water loss.
TRANSPLANTING FROM POT TO SOIL
The few minutes spent transplanting are the most important minutes in the life of the plan.
If possible, transplant on an overcast day. Again, think like a plant: A pleasant, sunny day for humans can be deadly to a tender, couch-potato seedling.
Soil should be moist but not soaking wet. Water deeply a day before working the soil. Soil that’s too dry pulls moisture out of plant roots and damages them.
Dig a planting hole that’s a little bit bigger than the plant’s root ball and about as deep.
Turn the pot upside down while supporting the soil side with your other hand, being careful not to crush, drop the plant, or worse yet, snap the stem in half. Now gently tap the bottom of the pot and e-e-ase the seedling out. Introduce (place) the seedling in the hole at the same depth that it was growing in the pot. Fill in with soil around the root ball. Now gently tamp down the soil around the seedling so there’s good contact between the seedling’s roots and the soil.
Tip: Broccoli, kale, and other members of the cabbage family prefer to be pressed into place rather snugly. And you can transplant them deeper than how they were grown in the container.
Not so with a lettuce seedling. You’ll want to nestle it into the hole just until the roots are covered and the plant is supported. Burying it too deep can result in crown rot.
Soak the soil around new seedlings immediately after transplanting. There are two main reasons for this:
• It helps them settle down into their new digs
• It begins the process of establishing a relationship with the soil’s Mycorrhizal fungi which are critical members of the plant microbiome. They form a symbiotic relationship with the roots of most plants on Earth.
After you transplant, pay attention to soil moisture. Keep it damp and never allow it to dry out. Water gently, preferably at the soil level. Stay in touch with your plants.
You might think I’m crazy to suggest that you think like a plant. Yet recent studies have proven that plants DO talk to each other.
Ecologist Suzanne Simard, author of the bestseller, Finding the Mother Tree, shared this comment in a 2016 TED talk: “Imagine you’re walking through a forest. I’m guessing you’re thinking of a collection of trees, what we foresters call a stand, with their rugged stems and their beautiful crowns.
“Yes, trees are the foundation of forests, but a forest is much more than what you see. You see, underground there is this other world, a world of infinite biological pathways that connect trees and allow them to communicate and allow the forest to behave as though it’s a single organism. It might remind you of a sort of intelligence.”
THE KODIAK GARDEN CALENDAR
What to sow: Veggies: Summer squash (green and yellow zucchini), cucumbers, edamame (soybeans) for hoophouse/greenhouse growing
Plant these seeds outside when your soil is warm enough: Peas, spinach, onion seedlings or sets, potatoes, Swiss chard, mustard, kale, mixed salad greens
Get your seed potatoes now: A word about potatoes from the grocery store: It’s not a good idea to make use of store-bought potatoes. They might have been sprayed with an anti-sprouting treatment (common) and they might carry diseases we don’t want to appear in Alaska.
Check out my new YouTube channel, It’s Never Too Late at youtube.com/ItsNeverTooLate. Got a garden question, get it off your chest! email@example.com. It’s a good email if you’d like to be on my garden mailing list.
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