Transplanting Seedlings

Part 1: Greenhouse Seed Starts
Part 2: Potting Up Seedlings
Part 3: Transplanting Seedlings

Transplanting is a straightforward process.  Here in northern Florida it is late February.  The frost season is pretty much over, although we may have a couple more.  For now, frost tolerant crops can be started or set out.  I've got some broccoli plants that are big enough, and I could use the shelf space in the greenhouse to start some tomatoes and peppers.

Being the start of the season, the beds are overgrown and neglected.  Work has kept me busy the past few months and these beds need some serious attention.


I rake off all the mulch and debris, leave it piled in a pathway.  Since I'm only planting one side of this bed, I pile it on the far side.  A few early season weeds remain.


I use a long garden fork to drag out the weeds.  It's much easier on my back!  The soil is loose enough the weeds come out without much effort.  


The compost grew a huge amount of grass late last fall.  It died off over the cold season.


Pull away the hay, the compost is ready to use.


I spread compost across the top of the bed.  This is about a half inch to an inch in most spots.  I've been adding compost, leaf mold, grass clippings and leaves for a couple years to this bed.  The percent of organic matter has been raised to a fine level.  The bed does not need a whole lot of prep or inputs.


Grab that tray of brocolli plants.  These are Waltham 29 from Sustainable Seed Company.  They were delicious last year.  I've got a hand pick with a scoop that works great for digging a hole.

Dig a hole.  The leading edge is sharp to cut any roots.  Swing it into the ground like you would a hammer, pull it back to leave a cavity.  The hole in this case needs to be deep enough to fit thee broccoli plant up to the cotyledons.  6 inches should do the job.


As I mentioned, I've been adding material to this bed for a while.  It gets better every year.  This soil is so loose I dont' really need a tool.  I can shove my hand into it.  Don't walk on your beds.  It packs the soil down.  When the soil is this loose root growth can be extreme.  Even with less nutrition in the soil, the roots can stretch out to find what they need.


I added some water to the pots this morning, giving them time to drain.  The moist soil holds together well.  Dry soil falls apart.  Too wet, the root ball will flatten.  With one hand on top to hold the plant from dropping (put the stem through your fingers), tip up the container, tap the bottom a couple times, the plant will slide right out.  Those roots are just right.  Much longer they would start to bunch up.  These will keep on growing in this soft soil.  Timing is important.  If the roots bunch up, they may not grow, resulting in a stunted, unproductive plant.  When the plant is as tall as the pot, it's time to get then into the ground.  Put the plants outside for a few days to harden off before transplanting.  The breeze will cause the plant to put some effort into growing a stronger stem and the plant is better able to handle more extreme temperature changes oveer the course of the day.


Set the plant in the hole.  Handle gently so as not to tear up the soil and roots.  Set it upright.  You can move it around some, but strive to keep the root ball mostly intact on a seedling this size.  If the hole is too shallow, dig it out a bit more.  If too deep, fill it in as needed.


Backfill the hole up to and over the cotyledons.  At this point those leaves are no longer offering significant energy to the plant.  Covering them will provide better suport for the stem.  The area where new leaves are just starting to grow, the crown in some species, should not be covered.  Give them leaves room to grow.


Optimum spacing puts more plants in the growing area.  Broccoli will grow fine in this soil, but this is mostly sand, poor quality without the organic material added.  My plants will produce but they'll be smaller.  About 15 inches apart will be fine for these.


That's all I'll put in this bed.   There are more in the greenhouse that will go into another bed in a couple weeks.



A tremendous advantage of transplanting is the option of mulching immediately.  I'll use the mower to chew up and gather all the mulch and debris I raked off earlier.  Only takes a minute and neatens up the place.  Having the material in a bag makes it convenient.



Before applying the mulch I give the plants some water.  Mulch is then spread to cover the area around and between the plants.  Take it all the way to the edge of the bed to retard weeds.  This is about a 2 inch deep layer.  


 This job is done.




Part 1: Greenhouse Seed Starts
Part 2: Potting Up Seedlings
Part 3: Transplanting Seedlings