Planting Seedlings in the Garden
Before you plant your seedlings outside, they need time to adjust to the bright sunlight, the changes in temperature, and the wind. Harden off your seedlings in the week or two prior to the time that they will be planted outside (generally, most vegetable seedlings are planted out just after the chance of frost has passed).
Harden your seedlings off on a warm spring day. Bring then outdoors to a shady, protected place for a couple of hours, then bring them back inside. Continue to do this each day, leaving them out for longer and longer periods, throughout the week. Make sure to bring them inside if the weather gets cold or there is a chance of a frost! Slowly give them more and more sunlight. At the end of a week, leave them out overnight. After that, they should be ready to be planted in the garden.
Try to plant your seedlings outside on an overcast day, or at least not a day that is excessively hot. Prepare your garden bed first, and dig a hole for each seedling before removing it from its container. You can see how deep a hole you’ll need for each plant by setting the entire container in the hole before you remove the plant. Place a handful of compost in the hole or work some into the topsoil before you make the row. Fill the hole with water and let it sink in.
Next, separate the seedlings from their containers by squeezing the bottom and pushing up gently with your fingers. If you need to, use gravity to help you. Put your hand across the top of the pot, with the seedling’s stem between two of your fingers (don’t squeeze the stem). Flip the plant upside down. Then use the other hand to gently tap the bottom of the pot until the seedling comes out. If the roots are very tangled, you can very gently separate them, at the very bottom. Leave the majority of the root ball intact. In larger plants, such as trees, you would spread the roots out quite a bit, but annual plant seedlings are tiny and sensitive, so it’s best not to overdo it.
Just as you would when transplanting in containers, always set the plant into the ground at about the same level that it was growing in the cell pack or pot. Water each plant as soon as possible, and water the entire garden bed thoroughly after you are finished planting. Make sure that the soil is thoroughly watered by digging up a small amount of the soil and checking to see if it is damp. Check your seedlings often for the first week or so that they are in the garden. If you ever find that your plants are badly wilted and the soil is dry, water them as soon as possible! You can also help severely wilted plants recover by snipping off a few of their lowest leaves (not the new leaves at the top).
You may want to mulch around the base of the plant with straw to help
keep weeds down and decrease evaporation. After you have transplanted the seedlings, carefully observe your plants. Water your seedlings well until they have fully recovered (established plants show new growth).
Preventing Pests: Cutworms
Cutworms are a type of caterpillar that loves to eat the stems of your newly planted seedlings and break them off right at the ground. They will eat anything from asparagus to cabbages, carrots, celery, corn, lettuce, peas, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes. To prevent them from eating your plants, fashion a small collar from a paper cup with the bottom cut out. Place the collar around the base of the seedling at ground level, pushing it into the soil 1-2 inches deep.
Bad Weather After You’ve Planted Your Seedlings Outdoors
Watch the weather for the first week or two after the average last-frost date in case of a spell of cold weather. If you’ve already planted your seedlings outside, and hear that there might be a frost that night, don’t despair! Simply take newspaper and fold it over to make a cone shape. Use a stapler to hold the “cone” together. Then place it over each plant, covering it. You can use rocks to hold it in place. This will protect your plants from a light frost. You can also cover your plants with weather cloth or a plastic tarp. Remember to remove the covering once the weather has warmed the following day.
Cold frames, wallo’waters, cloches, hotcaps (milk jugs) or grow tunnels (with weather cloth or fiberglass) are other devices used to protect plants by trapping warm air during the day and insulating the plants and soil during the night, prompting faster growth. Remember to remove any of these devices on sunny days to avoid roasting your plants.
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