Starting seeds indoors is a wonderful way to get a jump start on the growing season. Even before the snow melts or the summer growing season ends, you can have your vegetable garden started in your home so that, when the soil finally is ready, your seedlings are ready to plant. After all the care taken to plant, water and provide light to the growing seeds, don’t forget to take extra care to transition your delicate seedlings into the outdoors. Even if you’ve purchased seedlings, it is still important to pay attention to the weather and to harden off your seedlings.
When to Transplant
Not all plants should be planted outdoors at the same time. Cold weather plants, such as broccoli, can be planted several weeks before the final frost, while heat loving plants, like tomatoes, should only be planted after all chance of frost is past and the soil has warmed. You can find the correct date to plant your seedlings by first determining the average final frost in your area (you can ask at your local nursery, or use a simple online search). To find the correct date for each seedling, look on the seed packet, in a gardening book, or on the back of the seedling container. Remember that, just because a store is selling a seedling does not mean it will survive if planted outside.
You can tell that your seedling is ready to be transplanted when it has several sets of real leaves. Once your seedlings are deemed ready, it is time to harden them off before sending them to the garden.
Hardening off Seedlings
Seeds that have been grown under the gentle, consistent conditions inside are not quite ready for the real world without a little help. Seedlings need to adjust to the outdoor temperature, wind, and sunlight. To achieve this, allow your plants a few hours each day to adjust to their new environment. Choose a calm, overcast day to start and place your seedlings outside for an hour in the shade. Each day add a little more time, keeping them protects from intense wind, rain or other weather extremes. After several days to a week, your seedlings are finally ready for the garden. It is possible to over-harden certain crops, so don’t harden off for much longer than a week.
Planting in the Garden
Finally, you’ve made it to the right date and your seedlings are hardened off and ready to plant. Now is the fun part! Whether you are planting your seeds in a garden, raised bed, or container, make sure your soil is prepared and rich with organic matter. Choose a calm, overcast afternoon to plant your seedlings so they aren’t shocked by the midday sun. Depending on the container or method used to grow the seedlings, you will need to turn the plant upside down and gently slide out the plant, break apart the bottom of the container, or cut off the netting. Be as careful as you can not to damage the roots as you place the seedlings in the garden.
For most plants, you should plant the seedlings at the same level as they were in the pot at the spacing recommended for each crop. Water the plants immediately after planting to help the roots come in contact with the soil and continue to check the moisture level of the soil carefully for the first few days to make sure the plants don’t dry out. If you experience any weather of the first few weeks, such as heavy rain or wind, try covering and protecting the seedlings using containers, row covers, buckets, or whatever you can find. Just make sure to remove the containers before the sun heats them and cooks your plants.
Planting seedlings in the garden is one of the most exciting parts of the growing season. A little planning and work goes a long way to ensuring that those plants are given the best start you can give them.