plants require a smooth transition from potted life to garden life. If they are
not old enough to be planted out, going from a warm windowsill to a windy,
unsheltered soil patch too quickly could spell doom for your burgeoning garden.
On the other hand, seedlings left in their pots too long can become “pot-bound”,
stymieing their future growth. How can
you tell when seedlings are ready to be planted out? Fortunately Mother Nature provides
several clues to indicate that your seedling is ready to leave its pot.
moisture is a good measurement of how ready your seedling is for being planted.
If you notice the soil drying quickly, you will know the seedling needs a
bigger space. A small pot does not have the ability to sustain a seedling’s
growth much longer than 8 weeks.
leaves on your seedlings also lend clues. A seedling’s first leaves are called
“cotyledons” – they
function as temporary food storage and they are not “true” leaves. After the
cotyledons, your seedling’s true leaves will gradually emerge – these look
different from the cotyledons and after three or four true leaves have sprouted
on your seedling, it is ready to plant out.
can be an indicator as well – if a seedling’s roots are beginning to circle the
inside of the pot numerous times, then it is running out of space to grow,
potentially becoming pot-bound. This could lead to compromised nutrient intake
and yellowed leaves so you should plant out your seedling before this happens.
an eye on your local weather forecast and choose a week projected to be mild
and overcast. It is best to avoid planting out seedlings on days when the sun
is strong and overbearing because the harsh temperature could be too much of a
shock to them; the same can be said for wet, rainy days or cold and windy days.
do best when they are “hardened off”, a process that involves slowly adjusting
them to outdoor life by taking the pots outdoors, but still sheltering them
from harsher elements. “Seed Starting 101: Hardening off Seedlings Before
Planting Out in Your Garden” at Dave’s Garden has plenty of
tips to help you gradually prepare your seedlings for transplanting.
gardeners take a week or two to harden off plants, first moving them outdoors
to a shady location during the day and bringing them in at night,” Linda Wesley
at Fine Gardening notes.
“Gradually, they expose the seedlings to direct sunlight for longer periods.”
recommends simple shelters for the seedlings during their first week outside.
Basic gardening tools like “upturned flowerpots, cardboard boxes or buckets,”
or in cases of hot weather “a piece of lightweight cloth held aloft with stakes”
can be used as protection. It’s also a good idea to take them inside again
during the night.
serious gardeners, a cold frame is a great
investment. Instead of having to shuttle your seedlings outdoors and indoors
during the day and night, the cold frame functions as a miniature greenhouse,
providing an environment that’s less comfortable than your home, but more
sheltered than the great outdoors.