Or How NOT to be a Plant Murderer!
In my neck of the woods, it’s time to transplant the seedlings I started indoors months ago out into the big wide world. Just throwing them out there, though, after they’ve been protected and coddled indoors for months, is a big fat guarantee of failure (and dead plants).
So, what’s a good plant parent to do?
Don’t worry, I’ve got five of the BEST (easy) tips to get your babies off to a great start in the garden so you have lots of veggies (or flowers!) to enjoy all summer. Let’s get started.
Tip #1: Don’t Rush Things
This tip is actually a two-parter.
First, when you’re getting ready to start your seeds indoors, don’t jump the gun and start everything in February if you aren’t going to be able to plant outdoors until May.
You’ll often see “start indoors 6-8 weeks before your last frost date” or something similar on your seed packets.
However, do some thinking about this before you start to plant. Here in CT, our last frost date is *technically* the end of April or the beginning of May. However, we invariably have 2 to 3 weeks of chilly, wet weather in the first weeks of May. Planting delicate, warm weather seedlings like tomatoes, peppers or cucumbers outdoors then is wayyyyy too early.
I have to admit I messed up this year. I decided to consider my last frost date as May 1st and planted based on that. Then, as I mentioned, it rained….and rained…..and rained. I wasn’t able to get anything into the ground until the end of last week (May 25-ish) and many of my seedlings were indoors in small pots much too long.
For instance, my tomato seedlings were almost a foot high by the time they got planted out. This would have been okay if I had the room to pot them each into their own individual pots, but I didn’t, so they spent 3 months in small pots with each other.
That translates into lots of tangled roots that had to be separated, stressing the plants unnecessarily.
I’ve made a note to use May 31st as my “last frost date” next year to hopefully avoid having extra large seedlings to deal with. If your weather is similar and your indoor space is limited, consider this before getting your seeds started.
Part two of this tip is not to rush putting your seedlings outdoors. We’ll cover actual planting in tip #2, but I’m talking about putting your seedlings outside in their pots to get them used to the weather and sun.
This is, of course, something you should do, but unless you’re planning to bring them back inside every night, make sure your night temps look reasonable before you put them out.
I grow hundreds of seedlings in my upstairs plant room under lights, so once they’re downstairs, they’re not going back up! I also have 5 cats, so they can’t live in my front windows either or they’ll be cat food.
My seedlings live on my front porch until I plant, giving them about 4 hours of morning sunshine at the back of the porch, 6 or so hours in the front. This works well, and doesn’t sunburn or stress them too much.
However, before they go out, I check the 10-day forecast for any nights below 50F. If there are any, the plants don’t come downstairs and go out. You could, of course, cover them for extra protection, but I don’t want to bother, so I just wait until it’s warm enough.
This post contains affiliate links. When you make a purchase through one of these links, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your purchase price.
Tip #2: Take your Time
Similar to tip #1, but this one refers to what to do once your plants are already outside.
Seedlings are delicate and, if they’ve been indoors under lights or even in a sunny window, they’ll react badly to direct sunlight unless they’re allowed to get used to it gradually. Starting with an hour or two of morning sun and working up slowly over the course of a week or two works best.
Personally, I’ve found that tomatoes seem able to withstand a little more sun right off the bat, while squash-type plants seem more sensitive to sunburn.
My procedure looks like this (with some variation based on weather):
- Day 1 (preferably a cloudy day): The first set of plants come out onto the back of my front porch
- Days 2-5 (or so): This set of plants stays on the porch, hopefully getting some sun each day (assuming the weather cooperates)
- Day 6: First set of plants is moved towards the front of the porch and second set of plants comes out to the back of the porch. Again, if this can be accomplished on a cloudy day, all the better.
- Days 6-9: Allow these plants to acclimate.
- Day 10: Assuming I have more seedlings (and I ALWAYS have more seedlings), I move the first set off the porch to the bed right in front of the house (where they’re still a bit protected from temperature and weather extremes but will get even more sun), move the second set to the front of the porch, and bring the third set out to the back of the porch.
- From then on, continue this until planting, doing your best to move each set of plants gradually into more sun as possible.
Tip #3: Pick your Planting Day Carefully
Again, watch that weather forecast!
I try (assuming, of course, that the weather will cooperate) to look for a cloudy day that will be followed by several more cloudy or rainy days. If there are no cloudy days, I do my best to plant on a partly cloudy or at least, cool, day.
AVOID HOT, SUNNY days for transplanting at all costs. You’re not going to like the results!
If you absolutely MUST plant on a hot, sunny day, place shade cloth over your plants immediately. I did this when I planted some of my cucumbers. The weather was supposed to be partly cloudy and then got REALLY sunny just as soon as I got the plants in the ground. GRRRRR. BUT, they did fine with the extra protection.
Don’t have shade cloth? How about a patio umbrella you can stick into the soil? Anything that will break up the sun’s rays hitting your plants. Even a light cotton sheet held up over your plants with stakes would work, as long as there’s plenty of ventilation on the sides and ends to prevent heat buildup.
Pro tip: Try to avoid windy days as well. Wind sucks the moisture out of plants VERY quickly and delicate seedlings are much more susceptible to damage than older, more hardened plants would be.
Tip #4: Baby your Babies
Water your Seedlings!
Although most plants do just fine on an inch of water a week, seedlings need this water more often. Don’t just assume that watering your seedlings once a week is sufficient.
Tiny plants have tiny roots that can’t search very far for moisture, so don’t make them. Give them the water they need and do it OFTEN. If the weather is sunny, good deep watering every day isn’t unreasonable.
Mulch your Seedlings too!
Adding a layer of mulch is a good idea too. As long as the plants are big enough not to get completely buried in the mulch, mulch them right away. I use a product called Mulch Master. It’s a chopped straw blend that works very well. I also use it over heavy paper or cardboard in my paths to keep weeds down.
I couldn’t find Mulch Master on Amazon, but this looks like the same product, it’s just a different brand.
The only problem I’ve found with it is that if you’re applying it on a windy day, you’re going to have straw EVERYWHERE! And I do mean everywhere. You might not want to know this, but I’ve even found it in my underwear. Yup, keepin’ it real here.
You can also use chopped leaves, grass or even wood chips, just get something on the soil to keep your plants’ roots damp. Mulch also keeps weeds down, can help prevent the spread of disease, and even discourages some pests.
A Note on Severe Weather
I’m fortunate to live in an area that rarely gets anything more severe than an occasional thunderstorm. But, if you live where hail is a regular occurrence, or you get torrential downpours, give some thought as to how you’ll protect young seedlings for the first couple of weeks after planting.
Hail is a tough one. The best advice I can give would be, if you have enough warning, get some kind of covering on your plants. Again, old bedsheets, particularly if you can elevate them just a bit off the plants, will at least help.
If you only have a few plants and you can place buckets or large pots upside down over them, even better. If wind is forecast, a rock on top of the pot should keep it from ending up in the neighbor’s yard.
I’ve even been known to place my patio chairs over top of my plants with a rock on the chair to hold it in place. Anything you can do to break up the force of whatever weather is hitting your plants will help.
Tip #5: Be Vigilant
This tip is a good idea no matter how old your plants are.
Walk your garden every day, or at least every other day, and really look at your plants.
Check under a few leaves for eggs or bugs. Bend down and take a close look at stems and leaves for discoloration, curling, anything that just doesn’t look right. Stick your finger into the soil to make sure things aren’t too dry.
Most pest and disease problems can be handled quickly and easily when caught early.
Eggs on vegetable plants are most likely NOT beneficial and should be scraped off and destroyed. Ditto for most bugs (other than bees and butterflies) that you find on your veggies in any great numbers.
You’ll normally find the bad guys in much greater numbers than the good guys, so assuming a large number of bugs in a given spot on your veggies are the bad guys is probably safe.
If you’re really not familiar with most insect pests, a book like this might be a good resource for you.
It’s also a good idea to make a note of your first sighting of any pest bugs, particularly pests like squash bugs or Japanese beetles. I know from years of observation that Japanese beetles show up here right around July 4th, so I can concentrate my eradication efforts in that time frame. I don’t have a good handle on squash bugs yet, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on them this year for sure.
If you need a Garden Journal to help you keep track of everything, check mine out here. I’ve tried very hard to include everything you can possibly need in one place. AND, if you’d rather have some FREE resources to help you on your gardening journey, please check out my FREE RESOURCE LIBRARY here.
I hope this post has been helpful for you as you get ready to plant this year’s seedlings! If you’ve used my tips and found them helpful, or you have other tips you think I should include in future posts, please comment below, I’d love to hear from you!
I’ve also included some pinnable images below. Be sure to pin one so you can find me later!
As always, smile and have a crazy organic day!