The days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer & it’s now time to start moving your Spring seedlings out into the garden.
If you’re like most gardeners, you’ve probably been just itching to get your hands in some soil. Maybe you have a table with grow lights; bursting with transplants. Maybe every window sill in your house is a jungle of tomato plants… Whatever your indoor growing situation may look like, at this time of year, we are definitely all feeling ready to get those plant babies out of the house.
In this article we've put together all of our tips & tricks for transplanting Spring starts out into the garden. We hope you’ll learn something new & that your young plants will flourish as they transition from “house plants” to sturdy members of this year’s gardens.
WHAT PLANTS SHOULD BE STARTED INDOORS?
In our part of the world, early - mid May is an ideal time to begin moving frost tolerant plants out into the real world. This includes things like:
In a few weeks, in late May - mid June (here on the East coast), after the risk of frost has more or less disappeared, we’ll be able to plant our frost sensitive plants, heat loving crops, like:
Members of the Cucurbit Family don't actually need to be started indoors & actually do really well when direct seeded, after all risk of frost has passed. BUT many people (us included) start them inside anyway.
Many flowers do best when started indoors, a few weeks a head of your last local frost date. Please see individual seed packets for details. ...........................................................................................
It’s likely that your frost dates are very different from ours here in Unama’ki / Cape Breton. We recommend getting to know other plant people in your communities to find out about local micro-climates & optimal planting times. Consider too that high/low elevation, proximity to a body of water & North/South orientation are all things that affect when & how frost happens.
The Dreaded, Late Hard Frost: What You Can Do
A few years ago, we had an unexpected killing frost, IN MID-JUNE! This was devastating for the fruit industry & backyard gardeners alike.
Here are some things that you can do to protect your newly transplanted plants:
- Cover seedlings with a few layers of cotton bedsheets or row cover.
- Construct a mini-polytunnel
- If seedlings are still really small, create mini greenhouses using plastic clamshell salad packaging or 2L pop bottles with the bottoms cut off.
- In addition to the above techniques, water everything thoroughly late in the evening before the temperatures drop. Increasing soil & surface moisture creates a buffer so that the water in the plants takes longer to freeze.
- Hope for the best! There are no guarantees, but these little tricks can certainly help! xox
We really do believe that one of the pillars of health & vitality is good nutrition. Healthy, resilient plants, as well as nutrient dense food, begin with nutrient dense soil.
Ideally, you’d prep your garden for Spring by bulking it up with plenty of organic matter the Autumn before. More on that in our article Replenish Your Soil For Fall Gardening.
Don’t worry; you haven’t missed the boat! You can do this in the Spring too. 💕
Before planting in Spring, build up the soil in your gardens with lots of organic matter. Organic matter is anything that was once alive. Compost, aged manure or pelletized chicken manure, rain-rinsed seaweed, crushed shellfish or alfalfa (meal or pellets) are all great additions. For best results, use all of the above!
*Note about manure: Fresh manure may be okay to add in the Fall as it will rot over the winter. Adding fresh manure in Spring will burn plants & likely introduce pathogenic microbes that could make you & your family sick. When choosing manure, we recommend chicken, goat, cow & sheep manure. Because horses have less complicated digestive tracts, horse manure often contains viable seeds & can introduce weeds to your garden. Only use well rotted horse manure, even in the Fall.
It's almost time to plant. Before putting your Spring starts out in the ground, you'll need to get them accustomed to the great outdoors! This is a process called hardening off. This is fairly common gardening lingo, but I will say that I had been saying & doing it for years without actually understanding why! 🤭
So, seasoned gardens, please excuse us while we explain our three day hardening off process & why it is important.
To put it bluntly, transplants grown indoors really are delicate weaklings! In most instances, they've lived in pretty cushy environments; stable temperatures, no harsh wind, no beating Sun, no driving rains. They've had it easy!
When you harden off transplants you are literally exposing them to the elements, incrementally. Exposing young, indoor-grown plants to gentle winds & dappled shade stimulates cellulose growth & their cell walls become more rigid. Over the course of 2-3 days, your plants will develop a thick skin & become strong before they are planted out.
Hardening Off Day #1
Harden off transplants on a warm calm day, with no rain, however overcast skies are good - great in fact! (Plants need Sunlight, but if they've never seen direct Sunlight, they'll get fried real fast.)
Place your transplants in a location that is sheltered from the wind & Sun. Bring them in again at night. If you've had them over bottom heat up until now, there is no need to return them to heat mats.
Hardening Off Day #2
Return plants outside to a sheltered location that receives dappled shade. If night time temperatures are expected to be mild, you can leave them out all night, otherwise, bring them back in.
Do NOT leave your transplants on the ground overnight! Slugs can utterly obliterate a few trays of Spring starts & let me tell you; after weeks of tending to beautiful baby plants, this can be devastating! We recommend bringing them up onto a porch, or outdoor table to keep them out of reach.
Hardening Off Day #3
Place your starts out again in a partially sunny place for part of the day & don't let them dry out! You can either plant your starts that afternoon or the following day.
Time To Plant
After hardening off your transplants for 2-3 days, you can plant your starts out with confidence!
Ideally, plant on an overcast day; free from the beating Sun & any downpours. If this is not possible, we recommend planting in the early evening. Gently water in transplants on the soil only. Wet leaves = Sunburn! To ensure even moisture uptake throughout the season, leave a depression around base of each plant to direct water straight to the roots. Water deeply.
There are some basic rules of thumb when it comes to how close to plant you transplants. If you plant your starts too close together, each plant will be competing with its neighbour for water & nutrients. Providing optimal spacing for each plant will result in bigger, tastier crops & enable plants to grow strong & resilient in the face of pests & disease.
If you are unsure of how far apart things should be, there is detailed information about ideal plant spacing & row spacing on each seed packet. You can also find this info in our Seeding & Transplanting Cheat Sheet.
YOU'VE PLANTED TRANSPLANTS. WHAT NOW?
Maintaining a veggie garden can be pretty easy if you get a good handle on the basics; weeding, pest control, moisture & soil nutrition.
Weeding can seem like an endless chore, but if you get a handle on things in the beginning, weeding can end up being pretty manageable for the rest of the season. The key is to do a meticulous, thorough weed in the beginning, when all the baby weeds have started to grow. Pull them all out! This will allow your plants to become strong & out compete the weeds. Going forward, doing a little hand weeding & hoeing between the rows once each week should be enough to keep things under control.
In the early Spring you'll mainly have slugs & cutworm to contend with.
For slug control, we recommend sprinkling crushed roasted eggshells or diatomaceous earth on top of the soil to deter slugs.
Cutworms do damage by wrapping themselves around the stem of a plant (usually the variety you've most been looking forward to...), taking a big bite out of that stem & effectively chopping the whole thing down. GAH! 😠
There's a bit of a quirky way to prevent this. When you plant your transplants, put a nail along side the stem. This prevents cutworms from wrapping around the stem & killing the plants! Just remember to collect the nails later in the season.
Maintaining Moisture & Soil Nutrition
This really is the underlying key to gardening success. When plants have enough nutrients & water, they will out compete the weeds & be A-okay in the face of pests & disease.
In addition to prepping your garden soil before transplanting (as talked about above), we recommend side-dressing with powdered kelp, alfalfa meal & pelletized chicken manure a couple of times over the Summer to keep your beds going strong. Deep, even watering, done in the evening, will give your garden the moisture it needs to thrive. You can also water with a well aerated compost tea for an extra boost of nutrition!
Mulching your beds with rain-rinsed seaweed or straw will lock in all that moisture, prevent nutrient run-off, & help to block out the weeds. You garden will benefit from trace minerals from the seaweed too. 🌿
Well, there you have it! If have your own transplanting tricks let us know. We always love hearing from you. Happy planting!