By MELINDA MYERS
Increase your growing success by giving your transplants a good start with a few simple planting techniques. Preparing them for the transition outdoors and planting properly will help you grow your best garden yet.
Transplants started indoors from seed or purchased at a local garden center or greenhouse need time to prepare for their outdoor home. Gradually toughen them up with a procedure called hardening off. This process helps them adjust to the outdoor growing conditions, so plants will suffer less transplant shock and establish more quickly.
Start by moving the plants outdoors to a sheltered shady location about one to two weeks before the recommended planting date. Stop fertilizing and water thoroughly when the planting mix is starting to dry. Move plants into an hour of direct sunlight the first day, increasing the time by an hour each day. Make this easier by placing transplants in a wagon, old saucer sled or Gardener’s Supply Garden Cart (gardeners.com). Keep frost protection handy or move plants indoors when frost is in the forecast.
Once the plants are hardened off, move them into the garden. Water the planting mix thoroughly the night before planting. If possible, plant in the morning or on a cloudy day to reduce moisture loss and stress on the plants.
Follow spacing recommendations on the plant tags to save money and time. You will need fewer plants to fill the space and allow each plant to reach its full potential.
Press on the sides of the pot to loosen the roots and carefully slide the plant out of the container. Do not pull the plant out by the stem or you may end up with all stem and no attached roots.
Gently loosen any encircling and tightly bound roots. This encourages the roots to explore the surrounding soil and establish a strong root system. Use fingers to tease apart the roots or a sharp knife to slice through the surface roots in a few places.
Plant tomato transplants several inches deeper or set long leggy plants in a trench. This encourages roots to form along the buried stem. Remove the lowest leaves that will be covered by the soil and loosen the roots on the hardened-off transplant.
Dig a shallow trench two to three inches deep. Lay the leggy tomato in the trench and carefully bend the stem so the upper portion remains above ground. Cover the stem with soil and water.
Set stakes and towers in place at the time of planting to reduce the risk of damaging roots and stems when trying to secure tall plants. Make sure the support is strong and tall enough for the plants. Gardener’s Supply Vertex tomato cages and supports are flexible, lightweight and can be installed around established plants without damage.
Remove any flowers and fruit on the transplants at the time of planting so plants can direct energy into forming roots, resulting in more flowers and fruit over time. If you cannot bring yourself to do this, try removing flowers on every other plant or row at planting. Do the same to the remaining flowers the following week.
Water new transplants often enough to keep the soil moist, but not soggy wet. Water thoroughly and gradually extend the amount of time between watering to encourage deep, more drought-tolerant roots. Adding a layer of shredded leaves, evergreen needles or other organic mulch will help conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and improve the soil as it decomposes.
Implementing these strategies will help increase your enjoyment and reduce maintenance throughout the growing season.
(Melinda Myers is the author of more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Gardeners Supply for her expertise to write this article. Her web site is www.MelindaMyers.com.)