Get out and grow

Published on Thu, May 1, 2003
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Get out and grow

Starting seedlings: sun, wind and cold can hurt growth

By Michelle Ensinger

Although you can control your light, heat, humidity and temperature factors when starting seedlings indoors, remember that sun, wind and cold can kill seedlings or set them back if they are not hardened off properly.

Hardening-off is a technique not only to toughen them off by thickening succulent leaves which causes them to build food reserves, but introduces the plants to their new environment.

About a week or so before you plan on introducing the plants into your garden, you can use a cold frame or a protected area outdoors to start the process. Cool soil conditions and late frosts take their toll with new plants. The plants must be brought in every night.

The first step is to water them less often during the previous week before you start transplanting and allow to dry out slightly between waterings. During this last week, do not feed the plants. If possible, the temperature should be a few degrees cooler than what the plants have been accustomed to.

If you are growing plants in flats, use a sharp knife to cut between the seedlings � from left to right and back to front. Leave the plants in their cube shapes and do not disturb them from the flat. These plants need to be left undisturbed before planting them outside.

After a week or so of cooler temperatures, reduced watering and feeding, your seeds are ready to be exposed to the outside conditions. Start by exposing them to the filtered northside of your home, a shaded tree/bush or somewhere protected.

This area should be protected from wind and high sun as the seedlings can dry out quickly and winds can break stems and move the seed around which can cause root damage.

In the first week, leave them outside for about an hour in the morning or early afternoon, and gradually increase the exposure time until the end of seven to 10 days by which time they can withstand the full sun (if they are sun loving plants).

During this process, they will need watering almost every day as sun and wind exposure will dry them out.

The best day to plant your new seedlings is on a warm, cloudy day as it allows them time to recover and put on growth before they have to carry on photosynthesis and withstand the sun and wind.

Remember to write down your daily seedling routing, planting of the seeds, hardening off time, transplanting time, etc. In doing this you will have a good idea for next year in how the weather conditions vary from year to year.

Although many plants grow well in cool temperatures, others are very sensitive to soil and weather coolness.

As transplanting is very stressful to plants, the more you can ease the process the better chance the plants has for survival. First of all, dig an ample size hole for each seedling�s root system. A rich composted bed or adding compost to the hole when planting then adding in some garden soil, helps prevent the root system from drying out or becoming crusty after heavy rains.

The seedlings need to be watered (plus I add some liquid kelp into the water) before transplanting. Try to keep as much soil around the root system as possible. If too much soil drops off, I make a slurry of thick muddy water and dip the roots into this to ensure they don�t dry out.

When planting in the hole, ensure that the roots are not too tight inside the soil ball � loosen very gently if they are � and spread out the roots so that they do not keep wrapping around itself.

When the seedling is in the hole, fill with loose, well tilled (fluffy) soil, and ensure that each seedling gets roughly one quart of water and gently firm the soil around the root system to eliminate all air bubbles and pockets of air, in order for the roots to be in contact with the soil and there will not be any root-drying spaces. Create a saucer-like depression to catch water so that it will be directed towards the root system.

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