I love transplanting. I look forward each spring to going to the garden with overflowing flats of pepper seedlings or colorful annuals from local nurseries or with my own tenderly nurtured seedlings. Setting healthy little plants in tidy garden rows is very satisfying.
Some vegetables resent transplanting, including radishes, carrots, some squashes and beans. Sow their seeds directly in the ground, in the spot where they are going to mature. Other vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, benefit from a head start in a greenhouse or other protected environment. They should be transplanted only when the soil has warmed and they have grown big enough to survive birds, slugs and other predators that can make quick work of tiny sprouts and seedlings.
To make your transplant day a success, remember that transplanting may be fun for you, but it is stressful for your plants. Your job is to make the process as gentle as possible.
Choose your day. Young seedlings can dry out quickly, so if you cannot work on a cool or cloudy day, transplant early in the morning or evening, keeping the roots damp and protected. If it is warm or windy, water as you plant instead of waiting until you are done with the whole bed.
Be generous. Dig a good-sized hole for each seedling so you can spread the roots out, and take the time to fan the roots out evenly in all directions. Don’t double roots back on themselves or direct them back up around the plant. If you are planting a whole bed, work your compost and amendments in well before you plant.
Turn the pot upside down in your hand and give the pot a “thunk.” If the plant doesn’t drop out easily, cut the pot to remove the plant. Don’t try to pull or gouge it out. Be gentle.
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As a general rule, place seedlings in the soil at the same level they were in the pot. Tomatoes are an exception. They should either be buried deeply, leaving only the uppermost leaves exposed, or lain sideways so that the buried stem can root and anchor the plant. This deep planting is especially important for indeterminate tomatoes that can grow into huge vines, toppling over when the harvest gets heavy.
If your seedlings are in peat pots or cow pots, you can plant the whole pot. Make sure the pot rims don’t stick up above the soil since they can act like a wick, drawing moisture away from plant roots. When the moisture is wicked, the pot dries out, becomes hard, and prevents the roots from spreading.
What to do? Before planting, trim the rim of the peat pot to the level of the soil in it. Alternatively, rip or cut the sides of the pot to give roots a way out. Make sure the pot is drenched before you plant it.
After planting, water thoroughly to settle the soil around the roots. This settling eliminates air bubbles that could cause problems for your plants.
If the weather is too warm and your seedlings wilt, shelter them from the sun until they perk up. During cold weather, a floating row cover (porous sheeting available at local nurseries) can protect new seedlings from birds, small animals, bugs and frost. Just remember to remove the cover when the weather warms and pollinators are about.
For tips and practice transplanting seedlings, come to the Napa County Master Gardeners’ Green Elephant and Plant Sale today from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Connolly Ranch Education Center, 3141 Browns Valley Road, Napa. Master Gardeners will be offering demonstrations throughout the day and staffing a “help desk,” so bring your plant questions. Proceeds benefit the Master Gardeners' educational programs for Napa County home gardeners. For more information, contact Mary Hudson at 738-3025 or Jodie Morgan at 337-0439.
Napa County Master Gardeners (http://cenapa.ucdavis.edu) answer gardening questions Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to noon, at the UC Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Ave., Suite 4, Napa, 253-4221 or toll-free at 877-279-3065.
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