Saturday, April 12, 2014

From the Infant Seat to the Booster Chair: Transplanting, Fertilizing and Hardening Off!

Today's post is written jointly by mamsprout and WV Sprout and covers a lot of topics.  But, spring is here and it is a gorgeous sunny, 80 degrees today.  A wonderful welcome after such a harsh winter.  Lots to do in the next few weeks to get our plants ready to go outdoors.

We have now passed “The First Critical Week” – and are now 6 weeks into our project with successes and failures.  Remember, everything is a learning experience!  Our other sprouts will be updating their journals soon. I saw something great today at Tee Sprout's house.  She has successfully had Cleome sprout in her absence.
Blog reminder.  You may read each member’s journal by clicking on the links on the right column of the blog.  Each member will add to her journal as we continue through the year with this project.  If you have a favorite plant or a favorite author, just continue to read their journal.  Our new posts will focus on workshops and general suggestions on thinning, transplanting, fertilizing, repotting, hardening off and (finally!) planting outdoors.   We have found that additions to posts will not cause an email notification to be sent to you.  But, if you subscribe to the posts and comments (i.e. follow the news feed) then you can receive email updates when a comment is added to someone’s post.  At the bottom of the page, still in the green (not in the brown section where you can subscribe by email), in small black letters it will say Subscribe to: Posts (the word Posts is in red).  When I click on that and add my name and Gmail password I am then subscribed to the Comments also.  Know this is difficult for some – we are working out way through this, too!  Hope you are successful. And we encourage your comments and experiences.

Back to today’s post. 

Our hardiness zone here in West Virginia is 6/6b and our last frost date is May 10.  If you are in another zone, adjust your plantings accordingly.
We observed the first set of leaves (the cotyledons) emerge from the seed.  The next set of leaves to appear are called the first “true” leaves.  Seedlings should be transplanted soon after these appear as when lots of seedlings grow in the same container, the roots intermingle and the seedlings stretch for the light.  If your seeds are sown thinly or in individual containers, or in a single cell in a multi pack, then you can delay the transplanting until there are several sets of true leaves.  (*Note from WV Sprout - mamsprout warned me about doing this too soon, but I was impatient and didn't listen.  I felt sure that my hibiscus were ready to move up - check out my journal to see how tiny those little roots were.)

To transplant, we prepared our soilless mix as we did during Workshop 1 – Sowing our Seeds.  Remember to wet the mix and drain well.  Fill the next size up container to just below the rim.  With our smaller seedlings, like the four o’clocks, we used square 3” black pots. These fit easily into a flat if you have lots of them.   The hyacinth beans “graduated” immediately to a 4” round plastic pot.
Going from our 6 pack starter cells to a 3" black pot (in foreground)

In most cases it is important to transplant to a container only one size larger. Even though you may need to transplant fast growing plants again very soon, your plant will have healthier roots by using graduated containers!  Don’t be in a hurry to put your plant in a large pot hoping that it will grow faster – it won’t! 

Next, GENTLY dig up a clump. One technique is to place your hand over the cell, gripping gently as if picking up a ball; turn the cell upside down; and tip the clump onto the palm of your hand or onto a piece of newspaper on your countertop.  If you have individual seedlings in the cells of a 6 pack, cut the pack apart with scissors and deal with each cell separately.  Another technique is to lift the clump with a spoon or small spatula.

Gently separate the roots by hand, a pencil, a plant label, or other dull object and lay on newspaper.  Scissors, tweezers and knives are not recommended as they can cut the small roots easily! 

Always pick up your seedling by the leaves or underneath the rootball – never by the stem!  If you have multiple small seedlings that are crowded, take a sharp, narrow edged pair of manicure scissors and thin all except the strongest one.  Don't cut through the root clump; cut extra seedlings at soil level. If these extras start growing again, just keep trimming them back.

Make a shallow hole in your mix using your plant label, pencil, end of a bamboo stake, kabob stick or similar object.  The hole should not be deeper than your root.  Very carefully insert your seedling and gently firm the mix around it.  Do not plant too deeply. However, a few plants such as tomatoes may be planted deeper and will form roots along the stems.

Now, bottom watering – we’re all getting to be pros at that.  Watering brings the soil mix into contact with the roots, but it's important to drain well after watering.  We've found it helpful to set our pots on layers of paper towels or newspaper to wick out excess water. 
Either add a new label or add onto your old label the date of transplanting. 

More of kitty sprout's hyacinth bean
ready to go home - graduated to a 4" pot


4 o'clocks ready to untangle from the
6 cell seeding tray
4 o'clocks in new homes

Again – a second critical time!  Roots and maybe some leaves have been bruised and broken.  Place them in bright, but indirect light for the next several days.  NO DIRECT SUN! 

Now your seedlings may look alarmingly sick! Don't worry; they should perk up after a few days.  At this stage you again want to encourage the roots to grow down deeply into your pot forming a nice root ball.  So, hold off on watering until the soil around the roots has dried.  Remember how you could judge by weight when first sowing? This is still a rule of thumb.  And your plants can be allowed to slightly wilt, which is another good indication of needing water.

Continue to place your pots under lights or in bright windows but still do not place in close exposure to hot sun on a window sill.
At 4-6 weeks you can start feeding your seedlings. Check your fertilizer package and use one with equal amounts of Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorus.  Although soilless mixes come with some "built in" fertilizer, it dissolves in water so your plants are ready for a little boost - but only a little!  Just as leaves can be burned by the sun, roots can be burned by too much fertilizer.  The best fertilizer to use at this stage is a water-soluble general purpose type. Use a half-strength dilution for the first few weeks, and then switch to full strength.  Substitute the mix instead of water every time you water, from the bottom of course.

As the weather warms we need to think about "hardening off" and getting those babies ready to go outside.  This procedure doesn't take skill--just time, attention, and discipline.  Going from the "nursery" indoor environment to the unprotected natural world is quite a shock, so the trick is to introduce your seedlings gradually to their future homes.  When the morning chill is gone, put your trays or pots outside in a sheltered, shady place out of the wind. If you don't have a cold frame, tuck them into a corner of the house or nestle them under a shrub or tree. Leave them all day but bring inside at night.  Repeat this day care arrangement until night temperature stays above 50 degrees.  Although the seedlings can be planted in the ground at that time, some gardeners wait another week to be sure the weather has settled.

It's graduation time!  Pick a site that meets the needs of your particular plant.  Prepare the soil, breaking up clumps and going down several inches, then gently smooth and level.  Dig a hole a bit wider than the root ball and pour in about a cup of water. When the water has soaked into the ground, gently tip the seedling from the pot and plant at slightly above the level it was in the pot.  Firm the soil around it and water gently with a watering can or hose spray. The seedlings will now droop and scare you out of your wits.  Don't worry.

In a day or two they will start to perk up.

P.S. try to transplant to the outside on a cloudy day or in the evening, and shield the transplants from bright sun by tenting them with sticks and cloth for a few days.

How are our poppies doing?  We’ll give some tips in some of the journals soon.  We’ve found a blog from a wonderful gardener in Massachusetts  and realized some mistakes we’ve made.  So, instead of individually transplanting those that have survived so far we think we will just cut the plastic off the outside of the cells and plant the entire bunch directly into the ground.  The blog is linked above and also on the right hand column of our page.  I've ordered some new Shirley poppy seeds and am handing them out to committee members to sow directly outdoors following Matt's instructions.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the great advice!! I quit reading this entry after the "hardening off" paragraph, and got busy transplanting my Shirley Poppies...they are under the heat lamp in 3" pots, but have already wilted. Oh no!! I hope it's just temporary, but I may have to start over and put new seeds in the ground. From now on, I'll finish reading the posts!! Blondie