Many vegetable plants' first days in the garden aren't as seedlings poking through the soil, but as young plants that started life indoors. For those plants, a University of Georgia gardening expert says some "transplanting rules of thumb" can make your garden much more successful.
Prepare the plants
"The longer the flats of plants have been outside, especially overnight," he said, "the less shock the transplants will have to withstand."
Prepare the soil
To make the transplanting proceed more smoothly, McLaurin said, prepare the soil first. "Try to do this just before you transplant, so the soil will be cool and moist," he said. "If the soil is worked up and loose, it will make the root-to-soil contact much easier."
Then place a handful of compost or a teaspoon of 5-10- 15 fertilizer into the planting hole. Always cover fertilizer with some soil. Putting the soil between the roots and fertilizer keeps the roots from being damaged by fertilizer burn.
"Remember, this is in addition to that broadcasting of fertilizer you added earlier over the entire garden," McLaurin said.
Pour on the water
Soak the plants in the flats thoroughly. That will help the soil and roots stay together as tightly as possible when you remove each plant from its container.
Transplant on a cloudy, wind-free day if you can, McLaurin said. Or do it late in the afternoon when the sun has begun to set. Then there is less air-drying of the roots.
Handle with care
"Cradle that little root ball!" he said. "Keep as much soil as you can around it. That way, fewer root hairs will get exposed to air and die."
Damaging root hairs is inevitable in transplanting, he said. But try to keep this damage to a minimum.
"Root hairs are what the plant takes up water and nutrients through," he said. "They're the feeders on the regular roots, and they're so small you can't see them."
Set the root ball carefully in the hole, fill in the soil and firm it well so the roots make good contact with the soil.
Then give the transplants a good soaking. Direct the water flow around the base of the plant. But try not to get the water on the leaves and stems.
"Water thoroughly," McLaurin said. "Watering to the point of practically making mud ensures the best possible cementing of roots and soil and the least possible delay in new growth."
Young transplants need watering the first three or four days, he said, until they become established. This is especially true in March and early April when the wind can dry the plants and soil quickly.
(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)