Updated: Nov 20, 2020
Over the years, we've heard about 1,000 ways to transplant vegetables. Here, we boil down the need-to-know essentials into a 5-step guide that will lead to resilient, high-yield plantings every time.
Step - 1
Plant strong transplants. Knowing how to tell if a transplant is ready to be planted can be vexing. However, there are a few signs that you've got a strong transplant.
There should be no flowers or fruit on the transplant. Avoid planting anything that already has fruit; this is the plant's way of saying: "Let me out of here! I need to reproduce because I could die at any minute!". If these stressed out plants are all that's available, pick the fruit or flowers off A.S.A.P. to redirect nutrients to roots and shoots.
The transplant shouldn't be root-bound. Tilt the plant upside-down and pop it out of its container. If you see a few circling, white roots, that's perfect (see picture). If you see more roots than soil, that means it's root-bound and probably very stressed.
The transplant should have green foliage, from top to bottom. Transplants should be in nutrient-dense medium that allows them to thrive until their time to be transplanted. A telltale sign that a transplant has used up all its nutrients is yellowing or small, stunted leaves. Avoid purchasing plants that have yellow leaves. If you grow your own transplants, plant them in their permanent homes or up-pot them when you start seeing discolored leaves.
Step - 2
Reduce transplant shock, which can be caused by sudden, extreme changes in environment. Transplant shock can cause a plant to stall its growth and become more susceptible to pests.
Properly harden-off your transplants; this means that if your plants have been grown indoors, don't plant them directly into the harsh outdoors. Harden them off by digging a shallow hole and placing the plant (still in its container), where it's going to be planted. Keep it watered and let it stay there for 3-4 days. Additionally, use shade netting or frost protection if the temperatures are extreme. Like keeping a new fish in its bag when placing it into an aquarium, this will give the plant a taste of what its new home will be like.
Only plant in the early morning or late evening. These times are best because the temperatures are more mild, giving the plant a chance to put some roots down before the heat of the day hits them.
Soak the transplants BEFORE they go into the ground. A strong transplant can bounce back from the rough process of transplanting as long as its roots aren't drying out. On the day of transplanting, soak the transplants MULTIPLE times before planting.
Now that our young plant has been hardened-off, it's ready for its big day in the soil.
Step - 3
Use the correct planting depth. Beware, improper planting depth can lead to toppled-over plants, shallow root systems, or drowned plants.
There are two ways to find the correct planting depth for most vegetables.
The first way is to simply place the transplant plug 1 inch deeper than the bed surface. This means that the bottom 1 inch of the main stem will be underground.
The second way to find correct planting depth is to plant down to the first branch on the transplant.
What these rules boil down to is this: put the roots as deep down as possible without burying the growing point of the transplant, (the spot where new growth is occurring). When in doubt, go a little deeper. Plantings that are too deep are rare, but shallow plantings are very common.
Step - 4
When planting, create good root-to-soil contact. Plants are tougher than we give them credit for, keep this in mind when placing the plant in the ground. "You've got to break some eggs if you want to make an omelet." Well, the same goes for plant roots when you transplant; you're going to break a few in the process. Don't worry. (Exception: Cucurbits should have their roots disturbed as little as possible.)
When planting, dig the correct hole depth (based on Rule #3). Then, press the transplant plug into the soil with pressure, working around the plant, removing any air pockets. Gradually back-fill around the transplant. A helpful tip is to try to create a slight basin or "doggie-bowl" in order to channel future waterings directly to the plant roots, not washing off to the sides.
Step - 5
Soak the plant. Water the plant at least 2-3 times. This will ensure the soil is moist, as well as help fill any left-over air pockets from the planting.
There you have it, five steps that are guaranteed to lead to happier, healthier plants in your garden. Build healthy soil, follow these steps, practice appropriate watering techniques, and watch your gardening stresses melt away.