Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Small Fruits & Berries
by National Gardening Association Editors
Before You Get Started
Here are some general guidelines on setting your transplants into the garden.
- Harden off plants. Be sure to harden off indoor- or greenhouse-grown transplants before planting in the garden. This should be done over the course of a week or two. On the first day, place plants outdoors in a sheltered spot for an hour or two. Choose a location in light shade and protected from strong winds. The next day, increase the amount of time and exposure slightly, and continue to increase every day until you are leaving the plants out in full sun and overnight.
- Transplant on a cloudy day. Avoid transplanting during a heat wave; intense sun can harm newly planted transplants. If you must plant on a sunny day, wait until evening.
- Don't crowd plants. Remember that those small transplants will get much larger over the course of the summer! Overcrowded plants are more susceptible to disease problems, and will be less productive than properly spaced plants.
- Prepare the garden soil. Loosen soil to a depth of at least 12 inches, and mix in some organic matter such as compost or aged manure.
- Work quickly. The less time the transplants' rootballs are left exposed, the better. Have everything you need at hand before you remove the plants from their pots.
- Wait until the proper planting time. Cool-season crops like broccoli and cabbage can be set out a week or two before the average last frost date. Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, on the other hand, are heat-loving plants, so wait until after your average last frost date to move transplants into the garden, and be prepared to cover plants with fabric or plastic if a cold snap threatens.
Following is a step by step guide to transplanting tomatoes. These guidelines can be used for any plant, with one exception: All plants other than tomatoes should be set in the ground at the same depth that they were growing in the container.
Begin by soaking the rootball in a dilute fertilizer solution. Set the pots in a waterproof tray, and pour in a half-strength, lukewarm solution of fertilizer (preferably fish emulsion- or seaweed-based) to a depth of about one inch. The moisture will help keep the rootball intact, and the fertilizer will get the plants off to a good start. Let the plants soak for at least half an hour, while you assemble your materials and prepare the planting area.
Next, dig the planting holes. It's a good idea to use a yardstick or measuring tape to be sure you're spacing plants properly. Avoid the temptation to squeeze in a few extra plants. Pour some water into the planting holes to moisten the soil.
Remove a plant from its container by placing one hand over the soil surface, so that the plant is positioned between your thumb and fingers. Turn the pot upside down, and rap gently on the bottom of the container. Hopefully, the root ball will slide right out. If it doesnt, try squeezing the container, rapping harder on the bottom, or, as a last resort, cutting away the container.
If the plant is growing in a peat pot, there's no need to remove the pot. However, it's a good idea to tear away the top rim of the peat pot down to the soil line. If the peat pot is exposed to air, it can wick moisture away from the root ball.