Transplanting Your Seedlings


Young seedlings are the adolescents of the plant world. While they look like smaller versions of their full-grown predecessors, they lack the hardiness and strength to survive on their own. Use the following tips to take your seedlings from tender to thriving.

Soil Temperature

Soil temperature is the single most important factor to consider when deciding on a date for transplanting. If overall temperatures have been low, the soil will not be warm enough for your plants to thrive. Lettuce, spinach and other greens can be safely transplanted or sown directly when the soil is a mere 50°, while zucchini and other summer squash prefer dirt that has warmed to around 70°. Tomatoes, peppers and other heat-loving crops can tolerate cool soils, but will not grow much until underground temperatures reach about 80°. To speed soil warming, mulch with black plastic or use small wall-of-water greenhouses to warm each individual plant. You can order an inexpensive soil thermometer or just use a finger to estimate soil warmth.

Hardening Off

About 10 days prior to transplanting, begin setting your plants outdoors in a shady spot for increasing amounts of time each day. Start with just one hour and add an hour each day until the plants are spending most the day outside, but still being brought in each night. This process, known as hardening off, helps seedlings gradually adjust to the harsher outdoor elements and can help them avoid going into shock when they are planted in the garden.

Planting

Be sure to plant in the later afternoon or during a cloudy time to help avoid plant dehydration and shock. Use your hand to support the stem of each seedling as you gently tip the container on its side and squeeze the root area to loosen the plant. Next, gently rough up the root ball to loosen roots that have begun to grow in a circular shape.

Care

Take care to water each new plant daily for the first few days. After that, you can use a finger to test the soil moisture and only apply additional water when the soil begins to feel dry 3-4 inches below the surface. Roughening up roots and spacing out water applications encourages the roots to reach deep into the soil, lending stronger more resilient plants.

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Book Recommendation: The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible

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I am often asked questions regarding when to plant, how to control pests and which crops grow well in certain conditions.  While most of this knowledge can be gained from trial and error, it’s definitely helpful to have a few points of reference when you are deciding what to plant and how to care for your garden.

One of my favorite resources is The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith.

When it comes to vegetable garden books, this volume is an invaluable resource of planting information, pest control ideas and methods for increasing the quality and quantity of your garden produce. My copy is always at my side during spring planting time (so I can reference seed depth and spacing), amid the heat of summer when I am on bug control duty, come fall time when the harvest is bountiful, and during winter when I’m busy planning the next year’s crops.

I have used Smith’s wide row format to design several gardens over the last 10 years.  His use of deep soil and low tillage methods are perfect for the raised-bed planting style of many desert gardeners.  If you have questions regarding how, when and what to plant or just want a great all-in-one reference for your garden, pick up a copy of The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible.

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A Year in the Zone 8 Garden

I prepared this a year ago for a little mini-class I taught on gardening in my zone, which happens to be 8b.  Knowing your zone is essential in timing planting and harvesting, because it is based on your last spring frost, first fall frost and your overall winter low temperatures. Find your zone here.

I generally follow this schedule each year and it helps me to grow more in less space.  As some crops finish, others are planted in their place for a second harvest.  With our long, hot summers, we truly can get two seasons out of the garden!  Hope this helps you plan your 2016 gardening year!

A Year in the Zone 8 Garden

January: Beginning- order seeds, start onions, brassica family indoors.  Mid-month- start tomatoes, artichoke indoors.  Plan the garden-remember to rotate your crops!

February: Beginning-Buy any remaining seeds.  Plant peas, potatoes, onions spinach, lettuce, radishes, carrots, beets, brassica family.  Start peppers, eggplants and herbs indoors.

March: Last frost will be sometime early or mid-month!  

Plant, Plant, Plant!

Beginning-plant tomatoes (with frost protection wall of water or wait for mid-month), artichokes, beans, corn, cucumber, eggplant (with frost protection or wait till mid month), peppers (with frost protection or wait for mid-month), spinach/lettuce, radish, squash, swiss chard, kale, herbs.

April: Beginning-plant melons, okra, radish, spinach/lettuce.  Begin harvesting salad greens.

May: Beginning-last chance to plant artichokes, okra, radish.  Ramp-up watering.  Start harvesting!

June: Enjoy the bounty of your harvest and go to war with the bugs.  Ramp-up watering.

July: Plant winter squash from seed by the 4th of July.  Can still plant-beans, cucumber, eggplant, melons, peppers, summer squash, carrots.  Beginning of the month-start brassica family indoors.  Keep those plants well-watered!

August:  This is a big month for winter planting.  Seeds will need lots of water to germinate!

Around mid-month plant-brassica family, spinach, carrots, beets, lettuce, herbs

Can replant or 2nd plant-tomatoes (or prune original plants), beans, cucumbers, squash

Also keep up on water needs!

September: Plant-radish, lettuce/spinach.  Should be able to back down on watering some.

October:  Last chance to plant-radish, lettuce/spinach (mostly for spring harvest).  Start harvesting what you planted in August.  Back down on watering.

November: First frost is mid-month.

Clean out beds when tender plants freeze.  Keep up on the bugs (too bad they don’t die when our tomatoes do!)  Plants should need substantially less water now-even those wintering over.  If the weather is dry, water once a week or every other week through winter.  

December:  Take the month off (ha!) and look at seed catalogs.  Harvest spinach, beets, carrots, brassica family (don’t let these freeze solid or they won’t be good).