Transplanting seedlings is an exciting time for you but a traumatic time for your seedlings. Taking the proper steps move your seedlings from the seed starting container to soil will insure the survival rate of your seedlings. We have learned through trial and error, but you can avoid our mistakes by planning your planting carefully and using proper techniques.
A matter of prime importance in transplanting your seedlings to the garden is waiting for the growing season to start. While this seems obvious, sometimes our enthusiasm gets the best of us. If the growing season has not yet arrived, and your seedlings are too large for their current container you need to transplant them into a larger container until the weather is warm enough for garden transplanting.
Make sure your plants are hardy enough to withstand the outdoor environment. Diurnal temperature changes, wind, natural precipitation and sunlight are all different than they were where your seedlings started.
As the weather becomes warmer, you need to ‘harden off’ your plants. This is accomplished by moving them outdoors for longer periods every day until they can safely stay out overnight. Timing is everything. You can begin to take the plants outdoors in bright afternoon sun when the nights are still cold as long as the daytime temperatures are above 45° F. Never leave your plants outdoors overnight until all danger frost has passed.
Prepare your garden soil. For healthy, strong vegetables you want to make sure the soil is fine textured and loose when you take a handful. Dig in with a pitch fork and break up any clods. Be sure you have loosened soil to about an 8” depth. Remove any rocks if present. Grade and level the surface. Till in a generous portion of compost. Test your soil’s composition and pH and amend accordingly. Your local cooperative extension can help you with this. Tamp down the loose soil and rake over it to smooth the surface.
Test the soil temperature before you plant. Some plants prefer cool soils and some need hot soil to grow best. For instance, lettuces, spinach and peas like cool soil best. Tomatoes will really only start to grow in soil that has reached 70° F. If you want to plant before the soil is warm enough, there are geotextiles (our personal preference since there is less volatile organic compound gas released) or in a pinch you can use black plastic to cover the area with to warm the soil up sooner.