Documents: Special Interest: Seeds, Bulbs & Such:

Trouble-free Transplanting
by Marion Owen
January 1, 2000

The weekend dawns bright and sunny. A cup of coffee or tea; a light breakfast and you're inspired to work in the garden today. But first, you start with a visit to the nursery. "I'll just go and see what they've got this year," you think to yourself. "Maybe I'll pick up a couple packs of vegetable and flower seedlings."

Wandering around with the other inspired gardeners, the variety of plants displayed in neat, compact rows stirs hope and promise into your plans. Before you know it, you've abandoned your original shopping list and loaded your car with a few dozen six-packs of baby plants ranging from poppies and lettuce to petunias and celery.

Driving home you figure it's such a nice day, you might as well plant all those new seedlings before it rains...
Right? Wrong!
The fastest way to cause a seedling to permanently wilt (die) is to transplant it on a sunny day. Wait for an overcast, drizzly day or in the evening after it cools down.


Before you can plant your seedlings in the garden, though, you must prepare them for life in the great outdoors. Sheltered plants--those that have only known the gentle life indoors--aren't accustomed to wind, direct sun, cold air, and varying temperatures. You need to prepare your "couch potato" plants (toughen up their tissues) for outdoor growing conditions by "hardening them off."

A week or two before you plan to plant out the seedlings, put them outdoors--trays and all--in a protected area, out of the direct wind and sun. Leave them out for only an hour or so, then bring them back indoors. Repeat the process, increasing it to 2 hours, then a morning, until they are used to a full day. Keep them well-watered.


Transplant as I said, on a cloudy, cool or drizzly day. Water the plants before you start, and follow these steps for troubl-free results:

  1. ) Dig a hole slightly wider than and the same depth as the container. (Plant broccoli, cabbage, mustard spinach, kale, cauliflower and other cole crops deeper--up to their first set of true leaves.)

  2. ) If your transplants are in plastic pots, turn the pots upside down and slide out the plants. Massage the bottom of the pot to dislodge stubborn ones, being careful to not tear dangling roots. Seedlings grown in soil cubes are the simplest to transplant, cause the least amount of disturbance to the roots, and are easiest on the plant.

    Plants in peat or paper pots can be planted, pot and all. (Note: when transplanting peat pot plants, slit the sides and remove the bottom of the peat pot before transplanting unless a lot of roots already protrude through the bottom. It's important to always tear off the rim above the soil line. Otherwise it will draw water from the soil surrounding the tranplant's roots, leaving the plant in danger of drying out).

  3. ) Gently place the plant in the hole, and spread out the roots that aren't in pots or cubes.

  4. ) Fill around the plant and tamp with your hands.

  5. ) Slowly pour plenty of water around the base of the transplant.

  6. ) After planting out, you may want to cover individual plants with plastic milk cartons (minus their bottoms), Wall-of-waters or drape clear plastic over an entire raised bed to protect them from wind, rain and direct sun.

  7. ) Fertilize with a mild, liquid fertilizer such as PlanTea, fish or kelp emulsion, or compost tea.


  1. ) If the days stay warm for a spell, causing your plants to wilt, water the soil promtly and shade the plants from the sun for a day or so. They should spring back to life.

  2. ) If your plants' leaves turn silvery or purple, that's a sign that they suffered from some sort of shock, caused by cold wind, soil or water. (Municipal tap water can often be colder than the air and soil temperature. So be careful when you water, particularly early in the season. Besides, how would YOU like to be blasted with cold water?

  3. ) If one day you notice your plants have rotted at the base and fallen over, you may have planted them too deep, the slugs got to them when your back was turned, or they succombed to damping-off (a disease caused by various fungi that results in stems that shrivel and collapse at soil level). Also, the local birds and rabbits may be visiting your garden.


So you've spent the weekend digging in the dirt and now your hands feel like lobster claws. Every ounce of skin oil or moisture was left somewhere in the garden, leaving you with dry, chapped hands.

Most commercial hand lotions only provide temporary relief, but here's an easy recipe for a great lotion you can make yourself, and customize it for your own needs.:

1 oz. (28.4 g) lanolin
1/2 oz. (14.2 g) cocoa butter
4 oz. (114 ml) vegetable or fruit oil (almond, soybean, avocado)
A few drops of essential oil, or 2 oz. (56.8 ml) herb water (see below).

Gently heat the beeswax and lanolin in a double boiler. Add the oil slowly, combining thoroughly. Remove the mixture from the heat and whisk in the herb water, incorporating it thoroughly into the cream. Store in jars or glass bottles for up to 3 months in a cool, dark place. To make an herb water: gather herbs in the early morning, or crush about 1 oz. (28.4 g) of dried herbs in 1 cup (284 ml) of water. Pour into a ceramic or enamel pot, add another cup of water and cover. Slowly bring to a boil and then simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the herbs infuse until cool. Strain.

Choose essential oils and herbs to suit your needs:
Antiseptic: Tea tree, chamomile, echinacea, eucalyptus, calendula, yarrow, marjoram
Cleansing: Chamomile, lovage, nettle, parsley, plantain

* * *

Got a stuffy nose or a sore throat? You can find relief from a common weed called, yarrow (Achillea millefolium). Crush or coarsely chop a couple handfuls of fresh leaves and put them and in a saucepan with 4 cups (1.13 l) water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and pour in a bowl. Drape a towel over your head and breathe in the hot steam.

Master gardener and teacher Marion Stirrup of Kodiak, Alaska provides gardening tidbits, recipes, giggles and more in her quarterly newsletter, The PlantPress. Marion is also President of Plantamins, Inc., happy makers of PlanTea, the organic fertilizer in convenient tea bags. Visit her web site at or e-mail:

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