When your seedlings have grown too large for their seed trays or starter pots, it's time to transplant. To transplant seedlings, fill each new container with moist planting mix. Loosen the soil around the seedlings (a kitchen fork or spoon is handy for this); then carefully lift them out, one at a time. Or lift a clump of seedlings and gently separate individual plants by carefully teasing apart the tangled mass of roots. Handle seedlings by their leaves to avoid damaging the tender stems. Poke a hole in the new container’s planting mix, place the seedling in the hole, and firm soil around it. Water the transplant right away. Keep the containers out of direct sunlight for a few days to let the transplants recover from the move.
If it's not yet warm enough to plant outdoors, transplant the seedlings to larger plastic or peat pots indoors and continue care. If outdoor conditions allow, start hardening out (so they can withstand bright sun and cooler temperatures) your seedlings approximately one week before your last frost date. This is so important. Wind, colder/hotter temperatures and sun scalding are all potential threats that can shock or even kill the baby seedlings you’ve worked so hard to nurture from seeds. Hardening off is a kind of boot camp to prepare them for the war of natural selection that is waiting for them outside of your home. Stop fertilizing them, and set them outdoors for several hours each day in a wind-sheltered spot that receives filtered light. For us here on the Shore, that should be about now.
Move the trays of transplants outdoors to a sheltered, shady place out of the wind. Keep them well-watered. (If they wilt anyway, bring them back inside until they perk up again.) Bring back indoors each evening. After two days, leaves and stems should be stronger. Move transplants to a half-sun location for 2 more days. Over the next week or so, gradually increase exposure until the plants are in full sun all day (shade lovers are an exception; they shouldn’t be exposed to day-long sun). When they are tough enough to go through the day without wilting, it’s time to plant them in the garden.
Soak the soil around new seedlings immediately after transplanting.Spread mulch to reduce soil-moisture loss. Most importantly, make a plan to water your plants every day. Provide a steady supply of water from planting until harvest. Transplants need frequent watering until they’re growing well; keep the soil moist but not soggy. Rows or beds of seeds and young seedlings likewise need steady moisture, sometimes requiring sprinkling as often as two or three times a day if weather is very hot. As transplants and seedlings grow and their roots reach deeper, you can water less often – but when you do water, be sure to moisten the entire root zone.
Finally, check your garden every day. Take out the weeds, and remove any dead vegetation. Harvest your produce as it ripens to keep the plants growing and producing. Most of all, enjoy the spoils of your hard work.
Adapted from www.sunset.com and www.suburbanhobbyfarmer.com
Picture from www.clovershomeandgarden.com