Seed Starting Part 3: Transplanting Seedlings

SEEDLINGS
Ok, let's be real here. 
You read our article, you meant to plant your own seeds but life happened and seed-starting didn't. Or maybe you started the seeds but they didn't make it, despite your best efforts.  Even I suffered a few casualties this year, including these coveted Icelandic Poppies.  Rest in peace poppies. I'm here to say, guilt not! 

Get over yourself and just go buy some of your favorite veggies, herbs and flowers and join us for some planting! It's not cheating, we all do it. 

These instructions can be applied to planting store bought plants or transplanting the seeds you started weeks ago.

These instructions can be applied to planting store bought plants or transplanting the seeds you started weeks ago.

SUPPLIES
Shovel
Measuring tool
Stakes and string (optional)
Watering can
Compost
Seedlings

GARDEN DESIGN & LAYOUT

If you haven't already, it helps to sketch your garden before planting. This will give you a general feel for what you have room for and how your garden will look. If this is your first time planting a garden, you may feel a bit overwhelmed by this step.  You might think you have "no idea what you're doing," but trust me, you know more than you think you do.  If you've planted a garden in the past, don't forget about rotation.  If you've been growing the same things in your garden, in the same place year after year it's time to change it up.  As different plants take and release different things into the soil, it's important to rotate your vegetables around the garden.  You can really geek out more on crop rotation here!  And of course, don't forget to include space for pathways in your garden as you'll need room to harvest your amazing veggies!

 

TIMING
Many seedlings should not be planted out before the last frost date has passed.  In Zone 4, the average last frost date is May 15th, but wouldn't ya know it, we saw frost warnings all over the state last weekend!  It really does pay to be patient.  Once your seedlings have been sufficiently 'hardened off' (see step 7) and the danger of frost has passed, your baby seedlings are finally ready to go in the ground!  If you're purchasing plants from a garden center and they are outside, it's safe to say they have been hardened off and are ready to plant, but it never hurts to ask.
 

PREPARING THE AREA
If you haven't cleared your garden from last year, remove large plant material from the roots and compost them (except any tomato plants that have been infected by blight, they will infect the compost and should always be removed immediately in the fall).  Any smaller weeds can be pulled or dug up and worked into the soil as this green material serves to add organic matter.  If you have a small area, you can "turn over" the soil with a shovel.  This simply means to dig in your shovel and turn the soil over bit by bit until the entire area has been loosened.  This aerates the soil, mixes nutrients in, and allows new plant roots to take hold.

TO COMPOST OR NOT TO COMPOST?
Adding compost to your garden is not required, but is highly recommended as it helps build up the health of your soil and will benefit your plants in the long run.  Many back yard city plots have terrible soil quality, just ask my friend Chanda!  My backyard soil has taken 12 years to build up to nice loamy garden soil, so don't expect this to happen overnight.  But, adding the right things to your soil now will give you better results this season, guaranteed!  I'm not talking about adding black dirt here--I'm talking compost, compost (broken down organic matter which adds all kinds of yummy microbes to improve your soil quality).  Compost not only adds "food" for your plants, but also improves water retention and drainage.  You can add your own compost if you have it or purchase bag or bulk compost. Once the area has been cleared, the soil turned and amended, you can rake it smooth and prepare for planting!  Yay!

*If you want to start your own compost pile, tune in here for upcoming articles on how to start composting your kitchen and garden waste!  

I usually add compost before turning the soil over, but you can also add it on top of your existing soil and rake it in (as pictured).

I usually add compost before turning the soil over, but you can also add it on top of your existing soil and rake it in (as pictured).

SPACING & DEPTH

Decide what you have room for by determining which plants need the most space and which plants require :staking, trellises or cages.

This is where a measuring tape or tool comes in handy.  I have this handy stick that has been pre-marked with various spacing requirements (6", 12", 18", 24"...).  Once you have a general idea of what you are going to plant, and where they will go, bring your seedlings over to the area and assess the space in person.  

Each seed packet should give you spacing and depth requirements.  For example, tomatoes like 24-36" of growing space and need to be caged or staked.  Peppers are more upright and only need 12-18".  While broccoli and brussels sprouts require more like 18"-24".  Melons, pumpkins, and squash are sprawlers, so they will need lots of real estate, up to 3-6 feet!  Make sure you reference your seed packet (or good ol' Google) to find out about varieties that you are growing.  

Before digging your holes, lay out the seedlings, starting with one crop.  If you plan to use rows, two stakes with a string in between can serve as a nice straight line, or you can eye ball it.  With your seedlings, lay out and measure between plants, stand back and assess.  If you need to adjust them slightly do so but don't skimp on spacing.  Remember they may seem small now, but they have 3 months of intense growth ahead!  Many plants need room for air circulation and for light to reach the lower leaves, not to mention room to maneuver in for weeding and harvesting.

DIGGING IN
With adequate spacing and a pleasing layout, you can now dig your seedlings in. Move the seedlings off to the side and dig a hole twice the size of your seedling, usually this is one nice shovel full.  This is a good rule of thumb, but please reference your specific varieties for depth requirements. I prefer a spade to a hand shovel, but use whatever feels comfortable. I usually back fill the hole with loosened soil.  If you haven't yet, pinch off any extra sprouts, leaving only the healthiest one.  Very gently work the seedling out of it's container, never pull it by the stem as it can pull out without it's root ball intact. You can gently pinch the bottom of the pot, if its flexible, or tip it on its side and work the entire root ball out.  If you are planting in peat (fiber pots) I still recommend removing the seedling before planting.  

Once the seedling is out of the pot, gently loosen the root ball, breaking up any that are extremely "root bound."  Seedlings that are very leggy can be planted slightly deeper to leave a shorter exposed stem, in fact, tomatoes like to be planted very deep and grow roots along any portion of the buried stem.

 

WATERING IN
I learned this "watering in" technique from some wonderful farmers I worked with a dozen or so years ago and it works beautifully.  Place the seedling in the hole and gently fill the hole half way with water, allowing it to soak the seedling and soil completely.  Then, fill in the hole around the seedling with soil, breaking up any large clumps.  Press the soil down gently around the stem.  Water generously the first few days after planting, and during dry spells.  

*Tip:  Any leaves planted under ground will become roots, so it's ok to plant them down a ways on the stem.]

Ok, there you have it folks, almost everything you need to know about planting your garden.  As always, we are here for YOU! Send us a note and we will try and answer any of your planting questions or share in your success!  Tag us in your garden pics this weekend or use the hashtag #tootieanddotes and we might just send you a Tootie & Dotes market tote. Good luck we hope this is your best year yet!