A Guide to a New Garden Season: Handling Seedlings

seedlingsPart of any gardening project that deals with seeds also deals with seedlings.  All seeds started indoors will need to be transplanted but knowing when and how is the trick.

The reason for transplanting is multifaceted.  The first reason is that it gives one the chance to examine their seedlings.  Separating those you will keep from those that you will not saves time, money and resources.  It gives one the chance to start over, if need be.  Without this personal connection with ones plants, the health and wealth of your seedlings may not be apparent.

Transplanting seedlings furthermore creates plants with stronger roots.  They no longer have to compete with their brothers and sisters for food or space.  It also allows the plant to absorb as much solar radiation as possible, which improves the effence of photosynthesis or the plant’s food making process.  Plants that can make their food without competition produce stronger stems and leaves.  This equates out to a healthier plant that can produce more and is less susceptible to pests and disease.

But does transplanting entail and how do you do it?  Transplanting, in general, needs to occur when the plant has its second set of true leaves.  True leaves are those leaves that could be considered adult leaves and are best described as leaves that look like the adult plant’s leaves.  The first set leaves are somewhat pointed and do not resemble the adult.  This type of two-leaf plant system comes from plants that are dicotyledonous, which includes tomatoes and marigolds.  Plants that only produce one type of leaf is referred to as being a monocotyledon, which includes corn.

In general, you transplant monocotyledon plants once the second set of leaves appears.  Dicotyledonous plants, on the other hand, will produce a pointy leaf first and then two sets of true leaves.  Once this happens, it is time to transplant.

The process of transplanting itself is pretty easy and only requires a few supplies.  The first supply is a good quality potting soil that drains well.  Do not use garden soil.  It can carry many pests and plant diseases.

Next, you will need containers but the size depends on how long you are going to keep the plants before planting them in the garden space.  If you are only going to hold them until your local frost-free date, then a simple four-cell container will work.  If, you are going to hold the plants longer, then a 3-inch pot will be required.

If your local frost-free date is just a few weeks off, then consider directly planting into the garden or planter, such as Outdora’s Large Garden Center Planter.  But before you do this, the plants will need to be hardened off.  This technique will be discussed later on in this article.

If you are transplanting into another container before moving to the garden space, make sure to sterilize the containers.  This is simply done by soaking the pots in a bucket of water with one capful of bleach.  Once they have soaked, rinse completely and air-dry in the sun.

Now you are ready to transplant.  To make transplanting easier, consider using a Simple Potting Bench or a Potting Caddy.  Both of these items are sold through Outdora.  Using either one of these items will save ones back from bending over and allow you to organize your supplies efficiently.

Once you have your materials organized, the next step is to get the Greenhouse Seed Tray out and begin to examine the seedlings.  Do not select any that look diseased, broken, discolored or deformed.  As a matter of fact, just pull these seedlings out of the soil.  Next, gently scoop under the seedlings.  If done correctly, the soil will fall away and the seedlings will separate.  You can then gently handle them.

Fill each container with soil and plant one seedling per container.  Do not plant the seedlings any deeper then they were in the seed tray.  Once all seedlings have been planted, gently mist with water until the soil is completely damp.

Place the seedlings back into the greenhouse or in your home.  Continue to water and monitor.

About two weeks before your local frost-free date, you will need to harden off the plants.  Hardening off is a process where plants are slowly exposed to the outdoor environment.  While this process can take some time, it prevents sunburn and other types of plant damage.

To begin the process, just place your plants under a shade tree for an hour on the first day.  Continue this for a week, until the plants are outside for 12 hours.  Once you have reached this point, you can gradually expose the plants to direct sunlight.

Another technique that can be used is to merely place them in a Starter House Greenhouse.  This provides shade but can also be zipped open for ventilation and for sun exposure.

Knowing the ins and outs of transplanting is an important component of any plant production program.  With proper technique, you will grow more plants that are healthy and strong.

Mindy McIntosh-Shetter has been an Agricultural Science educator, and is a horticulture and/or environmental blogger who earned a degree from Purdue University in Agriculture Education with a minor in biology, and natural resources. Presently she is finishing up her Masters in Environmental Education and Urban Planning for the University of Louisville while working on her own agriculture/environmental blog.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.