Starting seeds indoors is a great way to extend a short growing season, but transplanting seedlings can be challenging for a novice gardener. However, with a little practice and following some simple tips, transplanting seedlings can mean an early start to your spring garden.
Here in Maine (we’re zone 5 where I am), our last frost date is estimated to be May 6th, but all the local gardeners have warned me not to plant before Memorial Day. Quite the departure from our previous home in Virginia (zone 7) where if you didn’t have your garden in by early March you risked it all being burned up come July, it was hard for me to wait this long to start planting. As a result, I started some tomato seeds under a grow light back in February, meaning that I now have nearly two foot tall plants in the house. In pots. Ready to go into the ground.
So I took a chance and transplanted my giant seedlings today. Fingers crossed they’ll be okay and we won’t experience another frost this spring. Although since it did snow last week, I’m a bit skeptical. But I’ll hope for the best. I also did follow a few tips to give my seedlings the best chance at surviving their upheaval.
When you’re ready to begin transplanting seedlings, remember that your plants have been babied inside the house where there are no severe temperature changes, no wind, no rain, no bunnies (or chickens!), so when you move them to their forever home, you need to be cognizant that they are tender and fragile.
Tips for Transplanting Seedlings
1. Check your planting zone and estimated last frost date. Don’t plant to transplant your seedlings until after the danger of frost has passed.
2. Harden your seedlings off. You need to let them get used to the outdoors gradually, so bring them outside on nice sunny days for a few hours a week or two before your transplant date. Set them in a sunny spot out of the wind – and then remember to bring them back inside at night.
3. Get your soil ready while your seedlings are hardening off. Add some compost to your garden plot and incorporate it into the soil to give the plants some added nutrition once they are planted in the ground.
4. Time your transplant date for an overcast day, preferably when rain is predicted in the next day or so to avoid your seedlings drying out once they are planted.
5. Handle your seedlings with care. When you remove your seedlings from their pots, don’t pull them out by the stem. Instead pull them out by the leaves. A plant can lose a leaf or two and still survive, but it can’t survive with a damaged or broken stem.
6. Plant the seedlings at about the same depth as they were planted in their pot. Then gently press the soil down to remove any air pockets that might dry out the plant’s roots. Water well.
7. Continue to baby your plants on cool or windy nights, covering them with overturned flower pots, cardboard boxes or plastic pails to protect them until they are established and accustomed to their new environment.
By following these few simple tips, transplanting seedlings should go smoothly and your plants should grow to yield you delicious, fresh vegetables all summer long.