2006-03-23 / Editorial Page

Transplanting rules make garden more successful

By Dan Rahn University of Georgia

Many vegetable plants start life indoors, then move outside to the garden. For those plants, a University of Georgia scientist says some transplanting rules of thumb can make your garden much more successful.

Leaving the plants outside for a few days will harden them off and get them ready for transplanting, said George Boyhan, a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

"Hardening" is the process of lowering the temperature or withholding some water, or both, to thicken the cuticle, or the plant's waxy outer layer. "The longer the flats of plants have been outside, especially overnight," Boyhan said, "the less shock the transplants will have to withstand."

But first ...

For the best gardening success, he said, start with a soil test. Your county UGA Cooperative Extension office has materials and instructions for collecting a soil sample.

"This will help determine what fertilizer to add, and how much, and if the soil pH should be adjusted," Boyhan said.

Follow up with soil preparation. "A well-prepared garden of loose, moist soil will help the transplants adjust to their new home," he said.

Then thoroughly soak the plants in the flats. That will help the soil and roots stay together as tightly as possible when you remove each plant from its container.


Transplant on a cloudy, wind-free day if you can, Boyhan said. Or do it late in the afternoon when the sun has begun to set. Keep as much soil as you can around the root ball. This will prevent root damage, particularly to the root hairs, and allow the plant to overcome transplant shock faster.

The plant takes up water and nutrients through the root hairs, he said. They're the feeders on the regular roots. And they're so small that they generally can't be seen.

Set the root ball carefully in the hole. Fill in the soil, and firm it well so the roots make good contact with the soil. The plants should be slightly deeper than they grew in the flat. Tomatoes can be planted much deeper than they grew in the flat.


Then give the transplants a good soaking in their new home. Direct the water flow around the base of the plant. But try not to get the water on the leaves and stems.

"Using a high-phosphorus, watersoluble fertilizer such as 8-45-14 to water in new transplants can dramatically help get the plants off to a good start," Boyhan said. "This is particularly true in early spring, when soil temperature can be relatively low."

Young transplants need watering the first three or four days, he said, until they become established. This can be critical in March and early April, when the wind can dry the plants and soil quickly.

(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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