Getting a seedling to germinate and grow into a young transplant takes care and attention. It is an investment! To keep the investment growing strong, the plants need to have a successful transition into the garden. Most farmers, at one point or another, have lost transplants. It happens to the best of them, but you can minimize potential losses through utilizing tried and true approaches.
Hardening off Baby Lettuce Transplants
Hardening Off Transplants
Transitioning transplants from a nursery to the field is a big change for many plants; they become much more exposed to temperature fluctuations and the natural elements. In order to give these young plants the best opportunity for success, it is important to give them a little taste of the outside first. About a week or so prior to transplanting, we set our flats outside on a table during the nights to let the plants feel the cooler temperatures. We do not allow them to be exposed to anything below freezing temperatures and may bring them back into the nursery or cover them in a frost blanket if we feel they will be damaged. This taste of the outside prepares the transplants for some of the elements they will experience in life outside of the nursery.
Watering Before Planting and Immediately After
Garden soil can dry out quickly and pull moisture from cell flats. It is important for the cell soil to remain moist during the transition to the outside, so wetting down cell flats directly before planting ensures the cells have adequate moisture when coming into contact with the garden soil.
When setting the plants into the ground, we press lightly press the plugs into the soil to make sure that there is no air space between the plug and the garden soil.
The top of the plug should be slightly below the soil surface, and we make sure to ‘water in’ the transplants right after setting them in. Watering the transplants right away provides additional moisture to the cell plug and the surrounding garden soil.
Lettuce Plugs before Transplanting(even small plugs have beautiful root development)
Transplanting at the Right Time
Generally speaking, it is a good idea to plant during the late afternoons and evenings so that the transplants have a bit of time to settle in before being exposed to direct sunlight. If it is clearly an overcast and cloudy day, it is fine to plant the plugs in the morning. Planting in the middle of a sunny day could nuke your transplants completely or set them back a lot! We’ve done this before and learned the hard way. It’s a hard lesson to learn after spending so much time and care to getting the seedlings to this stage.
Tip: Using a light row cover for the first few days (especially in the heat) while the transplants are settling in provides just a small amount of shade and keeps them from getting scorched.
A Few Days of Water
For the next few days after the transplants are set out in the garden beds, we are sure to water them regularly. Soon they will be sending off roots to reach for moisture, but they need help before getting to this stage. Sometimes, during the heat of the summer, watering a few times a day may be necessary. Just be sure to keep a keen eye on the newly planted transplants until they have adjusted to the new conditions and can make it on their own.
There are numerous advantages to transplanting and most center around control of some sort. For example, transplanting allows complete use of bed space without having to worry about any dead space from poor germination of directly seeded crops. It also allows the farmer to keep the seedling in a controlled environment until conditions are ideal for growing, further maximizing the use of bed space. Transplanting crops, when spaced closely enough together, allows for much quicker foliage cover of bed space, resulting in a quick canopy of sorts that can help create a micro-climate and protect soils from erosion and help mitigate weed growth. The more developed transplants already have a good head-start on the competition!
When choosing crops to transplant and which crops to just seed directly, the speed/rate of growth is the most important factor. There is no way we would transplant arugula or any baby greens, for example as they only take between 20 and 30 days until they are ready for harvest. For us, all greens that aren’t grown for baby greens (large kale, Asian braising greens, for example) are transplanted. This gives us uniform growth and good use of the bed space. Other crops we transplant are the usual summer crops: tomatoes, summer squash, eggplant, basil--the list goes on.