Let’s Be Fussy When We Transplant

Master Gardener Scoop – June 20, 2018

By Will Summers,
Master Gardener

It is that time of year that all our garden centers and even variety stores abound with potted seedlings and a cornucopia of all forms of plant-life and gardening materials. This raises our concerns over the proper handling and transplanting of plants. I hear all the time: “I don’t have a Green-thumb” or just “I kill plants!” These are some notes to help your plants survive.

Plant as soon as you get home- Many people arrive home late, or during the week, and put off planting until some later date. During this time, plants experience dramatic temperature extremes, lack of water and often insufficient lighting. Purchase plants only when you are prepared to plant within a reasonable time. This means that your garden space is well-tilled and ready for planting. If planting is delayed, place the plants in a favorable environment such as “healing” them into the ground or into a shielded environment with raised humidity and sufficient light.

Water copiously – Nobody appreciates muddy garden soils, however newly transplanted plants demand ample water to survive. The solution is to plant when garden soils are workable and dry enough to till. Start by scooping out a planting hole slightly larger than the root ball. Fill the hole with water and let it soak in. Then, place the plant, hold it upright gently and slide the soil into the hole around the roots. Do not bury the plant deeper than the top of the root mass or elevate the root ball above surrounding soil level. Then, press the soil up tight around the root mass. Lastly, place another dipper of water around the plant.

Get All The Dirt – Get as much soil with the plant roots as you can, especially when transplanting plants started from seed. Try to get the biggest root ball around the roots possible when transplanting.

Do not add soil supplements or fertilizer – One of the biggest mistakes gardeners make is to apply fertilizers on to newly transplanted plants. Chemical fertilizers burn plant roots and upset a plant’s ability to absorb water. An alternative is to soil test before planting and supplement soil nutrients in advance or well after plants are established. The one exception, – add a spoon-full of organic fertilizers such as compost tea, fish emulsion, bone meal or blood meal into the planting hole before planting and mix it into the planting hole.

Continue intensive care – Water newly planted plants daily. Push your fingers into the soil and check for moisture. Most potting mixes do not retain water very well. Protect new plants from cold and drying with caps or jars. Keep pets and wildlife away. Place stakes and ties temporarily to keep plants upright.

Reduce weed competition – Weed seeds blow in from surrounding areas and germinate as soon as garden soil is disturbed. Adding fertilizers aid weeds before you get any benefit to newly planted garden plants. Continue vigilant weeding for the first month after planting to give transplants a good head start.

Good luck with all your gardening endeavors this year. Please give all your plants “TLC” and they’ll reward you with bountiful growth. For more gardening information, please contact your local University of Illinois Master Gardener or your local County Extension office.