Transitioning Transplants to the Garden
Updated: Oct 25
In our previous article we learned All About Seed Starting and now we continue on. We have raised our little plants from tiny seeds and nurtured them with loving care for weeks indoors. Now it is time to introduce them to their permanent home in the great outdoors. Here is how we get them planted in their forever home with the least stress as possible, for both the plants and for us.
Getting the Garden Ready
First we need to make sure we have a spot in our gardens to put our transplants. Look for a sunny spot (most of our plants need full sun: 6 hours of good sun per day minimum). Make sure there is a minimum of 12” of good soil, more if you are planting root vegetables or anything with deep tap roots. Rake the soil and break up any clumps and add 1-2” of compost if you didn’t get that done in the fall. Our beds should now be ready to go!
Making Sure Our Plants Are Ready
We need to ensure that our plants are fully prepared to transition to the outdoors as well. When exactly is the right time to transfer our transplants outside? Well, that depends on the plant and your climate. Cool season plants can be put out 2-4 weeks before your Last Frost Date (LFD). The next round of plantings occur at, or 1 week after, your LFD. Warm season plants need to wait until 2-4 weeks after your LFD. Check your seed packages for specific dates for each variety. Remember, each year is different. Watch your weather forecast and use your good judgement.
When to transplant outdoors:
As soon as soil can be worked (2-4 weeks before LFD): broccoli, cabbage, kale, parsley After all chance of nighttime frost (0-1 weeks after LFD): beans, cucumber, cauliflower, onion pansy, petunia Warmer nighttime temperatures (2-4 weeks after LFD): tomatoes, peppers, summer and winter squash, melons, eggplant, herbs marigolds, most annual flowers, most perennials
Hardening off is the process of gradually getting our indoor plants used to the great outdoors. This is important! Our plants are not accustomed to wind, insects, intense sunshine, cool evenings (or days) or intense heat. If we don’t harden them off, we increase the chances of transplant shock and can even kill the plants we have put so much time and effort into. This is the process that I like to use. It slowly increases the exposure to sun and wind. Keep in mind that if you have days of very poor weather (storms or extreme wind), pull your plants back inside and consider that day as not counting. Continue on with hardening off once the weather improves. This is gentle love, not tough love!
Hardening off: Day 1: outside in full shade, bring inside at night. Day 2: outside in part sun, bring inside at night. Day 3: outside in a bit more sun, leave outside at night. Day 4: transplant into its permanent place and water well.
Yes, this process involves a lot of moving plants in and out. It will take time and it will get annoying. But it is most definitely worth it. Your plants will thank you with quicker and better growth.
Getting Them In The Ground
The last step of the process is planting. Remember that to reduce transplant shock as much as possible, we need to keep our roots cool and moist, so try to pick a cooler, cloudy day for this. Lightly water your transplants (for the same reason). Dig a hole in your desired location that is at least as deep as your pot and twice as wide. Fill your hole with water and wait for the water to drain.
If you are using biodegradable pots, you don’t need to remove the plant from the pot; the whole thing can go in the hole. Just make sure the top edge of the pot is completely buried, or cut it off to ensure it does not stick up above the soil. This will ensure the pot stays moist until it completely breaks down.
Loosen the sides of the pot by squeezing the sides of the pot gently. Hold the stem of the plant between your pointer and middle finger at the soil surface to stabilize the plant. Use your spread hand to prevent your soil from falling all over the place. Flip your plant upside-down and remove the pot while holding the plant and soil in one hand. Separate and loosen the roots if at all root bound.
Place plant into the hole, ensuring that the soil level is consistent with the soil level that you had in the pot. Use a pencil or stake to make sure (see photo at left). Add or remove a bit of soil from the hole to bring it to the correct level. Back fill your hole (use the soil you dug from it, not new fancy soil) and tamp down gently so that all the roots are in contact with the soil. Water really well! Your new plants will need consistent watering until they are fully established (usually 1-2 weeks).
All that's left is some routine maintenance while your plants mature. Whether your goal is beautiful flowers or nutritious vegetables, if you have followed these instructions, you will have given your plants the best chance at healthy, productive lives.
Yummy gardening everyone!
West Coast Seeds (www.westcoastseeds.com) for everything seed starting, seed sales and timing charts, etc.
Johnny’s Seeds (www.johnnyseeds.com) for everything seed starting, seed sales and gardening tools. Note this is an American company so climate information will be potentially different from yours.
Stacey Murphy (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCK8WWphD0zYS4c5jsLOOOmg) for lots of videos on everything to do with growing food.
Don’t forget your local garden centre or greenhouse!