Seed Starting Pt. 6 – Setting Out
Due to circumstances beyond our control, this series has been on hiatus for a while. The flooding in the Midwest included the river behind my house, and while fortunately, I had no major water problems in my home, my backyard was a soggy mess. Even after the water receded and a week of dry weather, the ground was still too wet to work. The maple seeds however, found the environment much to their liking.
(Click here for previous posts in this series)
This is what my garden normally looks like by this time of year.
I’ve managed to keep my transplants alive, but they were getting much too large and beat up by the wind, so yesterday I decided they had to go in the ground regardless of the soil conditions.
After your plants have been thoroughly hardened off and the temperature and soil conditions are right, it’s time to set them out in the garden. Tender plants need to be set out after all danger of frost has passed in your area. There are ways you can protect warm weather transplants such as tomatoes from cold if you want to get an early start, including row covers, and water-filled jackets that wrap around a plant to hold warmth, but if the soil hasn’t warmed sufficiently the plants will sulk in the cold dirt and won’t take off. I have used some of these tricks on just a couple of plants some years just to get a few extra early ripe tomatoes, but wouldn’t bother for a large number of plants.
The soil needs to be moderately dry – too much moisture in the soil will result in clumping when it’s worked and you’ll end up with hard lumps of soil when it dries, making it difficult for the roots to penetrate. The old rule of thumb is to take a handful of soil from just below the surface and squeeze it into a ball. Press on the lump with a finger, and if the soil is dry enough it will readily crumble.
Plan to allow enough space for plants to grow so they don’t compete for light and have sufficient air circulation which inhibits disease. I plant tomatoes and peppers in wide rows with a double row of plants planted in a zig-zag pattern. Rows should be no wider than twice your arm’s length, so you can easily reach all parts of the row from one side or the other.
Loosen the soil well at each planting location and dig your holes. Depth of planting will depend on the type of plant and its size. Plants that grow from a central crown such as parsley should be planted at the same depth as they were in their original container. Many plants like tomatoes that grow from a single stem can be planted deeper if the transplant has gotten taller than it should have before transplanting. Tomatoes and peppers will sprout additional roots from the lower portion of the buried stem.
Gently remove the plant from its temporary container and in the case of gangly tomatoes, pinch off a couple of the lower leaves, and place into the planting hole. Backfill with soil, firming around the root ball and stem to ensure there are no air pockets around the roots. I like to form a shallow depression around the new transplants to hold water. Water in well and if you are growing several varieties of one type of plant, be sure to mark the plant or make a map of your rows.
Allow a couple of days for the plants to recover from any transplant shock, and get ready for the burst of growth that will soon follow. In the case of tomatoes, after a week, trim off any leaves that touch the ground as vegetation against wet ground is a ready means of infection from soil borne disease. I use homebuilt tomato cages I’ve build from concrete rewire for supporting my plants. They’re cheap and easy to make so I’ll have a post up soon on how to make them.