The best way to get high quality, healthy, and true-to-name vegetable transplants is to grow your own. If, however, you choose to buy transplants from a nursery or garden center, here’s a guide to selecting and caring for transplants.
Which Vegetables Should I Plant?
If you are a first-time gardener, you may want to start with a few tomato plants, some peppers and some herbs. They are easy to grow and you’ll have plenty to pick throughout the season. For more ideas on what to plant, see our article on Planting Vegetables
Selecting Healthy Plants
Choose transplants that have a dark green, healthy appearance. Generally, shorter, thicker transplants are much better than taller, skinny plants. Vegetable plants should not have flowers, as this will add to the stress of transplant shock. Be sure that the plants are free of any insect infestation or obvious disease.
Caring for Transplants
If you can’t transplant your new seedlings immediately, be sure that the roots are kept moist, and limit the plants’ exposure to direct sunlight and windy conditions.
Transplants should have moist roots when transplanting. Be careful not to disturb the roots, as the tiny root hairs are very fragile and are very important in supplying the life-giving water and nutrients to the plant. The exception would be if you could only procure transplants that are “root bound” with a thick bundle of roots winding around the root ball. In that case, carefully unbundle the root mass, without tearing the roots, if possible.
Most transplants can be planted to a depth equal to the depth of the roots in the container; however, tomato and pepper transplants will almost always perform better if planted deeper. These transplants can be planted up to their first true leaves. The stems will generate additional roots very quickly. Deeper planted tomatoes and peppers will soon surpass shallow planted transplants, and will develop better root systems and be much healthier all season long.
Water New Transplants
Newly transplanted vegetable plants should be watered thoroughly for several days to help the roots more quickly establish in the garden. A diluted starter fertilizer, high in phosphorous, will also help root development. Be careful not to over feed new transplants; tender seedlings can easily be “burnt” by overfeeding. And, early feeding will often cause more foliage development and my actually suppress flower and fruit development. If you want to add some nutrients at transplant time, dehydrated cow manure can be used sparingly, or compost can be added to the planting hole.
Mulching immediately after transplanting will help retain moisture in the root area, and will suppress nutrient and water robbing weeds.
If you’ve ever had tomato cut worms, or if you have hungry rabbits in the area, you may want to shield your new transplants with small metal or paper cylinders (to keep cut worms at bay) or small wire cages (to deter rabbits and birds).
Now is a good time to identify your plants, especially if you’re growing several varieties and you want to compare results throughout the season. Use a waterproof marker to make plant labels or paint the plant name on a smooth rock that can be placed near the plant for identification. The small plant labels that usually come with transplants will soon be lost in the foliage and mulch; so make big plant identification markers now if you want to know what’s what later in the season.
Keep good notes on the performance of your vegetable transplants so that you’ll have some good information to help you have an even better garden next year.