Caring for your plants from seed to garden
Timing your transplants
When seedlings are 1/2" to 1" tall, if you are starting seeds indoors, they should be transplanted to stand two inches apart in a flat or placed into individual containers. The usual rule is to transplant when the first pair of true leaves has formed.|
When seedlings are about a half-inch high or have their true leaves (those resembling the species, instead of the ones known as "seed leaves" which appear first), they have reached the proper stage for transplanting them to other containers. By this time your seedlings will have developed roots that are long in proportion to top growth.
Some plants, such as tomatoes, benefit from a second transplanting which develops even stronger root systems. If the plants are grown in a tightly closed greenhouse, they should, at this stage, be given carbon dioxide during the days, either in gaseous or liquid form. This will encourage photosynthesis.
How to transplant your seedlings
Soil in the new flat or container may have a small amount of compost mixed with the loam and sand, but the mixture should not be too rich. If the roots must seek further for food, they will build a strong, healthy root system, which is more important to the plants at this point in their growth than height of stem.
The containers for transplanting purposes are practically the same as those used for sowing. Select a somewhat richer potting mixture, so that the seedlings will have plenty of available fertilizers. Dampen the soil and fill the containers loosely. Smooth it off and press it down with a flat board. With a small round stick, make holes that are wide and deep enough to accommodate the seedling roots.
Lift the seedlings carefully from their old flat, hold them in your fingers at the proper depth in the hole, and with the other hand press the soil firmly around the roots. The proper depth is one at which the roots are thoroughly covered and the plant supported.
Air spaces around the roots are fatal. Those fine feeder roots which do not come in close contact with the soil will dry out and the seedling will die for lack of food. Water thoroughly and shade from direct sun or use artificial light until the seedlings begin active growth.
Hardening off your seedlings
Plants which are grown in the house are usually too tender to transplant directly into the garden. They must be "hardened off"; that is, gradually accustomed to outdoor conditions, so that there will not be any shock to check active growth. If they are very tender, they may be placed for a week or two in the hotbed or cold frame. Always transplant, if possible, on a damp, cloudy day.
About two weeks before the seedlings are to be planted in the garden, they should begin their hardening-off. At first they should be set outside in the middle of the day. Gradually the period when they are left outside may be lengthened into the cooler parts of the day. If a cold frame is available they may be placed in the frame with the sash lifted at midday. Watch them carefully to see that they do not wilt and keep them sheltered from the wind.
Planting your seedlings in the garden
Once you are sure that your fledgling plants are ready for the garden it is time to place them into the soil. Make small holes that are deep enough to receive the seedling's roots without bending them. Remove the plants from the cold frame or container with a ball of earth at the roots and trim off any broken roots. Insert the seedlings in the hole and firm the earth around the roots as well as around the stem. Both thumbs can be used to press the soil down properly. This eliminates air pockets around the roots. Most plants benefit from being sunk lower than they were in their flats.
Transplanting should be done on a cloudy day, early in the morning or in the evening when the sun will not shine directly on exposed roots. If possible, for several days after transplanting, plants should be protected from the direct rays of the sun by newspapers folded to a hot-cap shape.
Seedlings should be watered as soon as they are placed in the ground, and the soil around them should be kept moist until they are established. A cutworm collar is necessary in most gardens to protect the young seedlings. This may be a piece of cardboard or stiff paper about three by five inches, which is wrapped loosely around the stem and sunk about an inch in the soil.
Remember, during the early stages of your plants growth care must be given to them on a continuous basis. Once they have established themselves only routine maintenance will be required.