If the plants have not been seeded in individual containers, they
must be transplanted to give them proper growing space. One of the
most common mistakes made is leaving the seedlings in the seed
flat too long. The ideal time to transplant young seedlings is
when they are small and there is little danger from setback. This
is usually about the time the first true leaves appear above or
between the cotyledon leaves (the cotyledons or seed leaves are
the first leaves the seedling produces). Dont let plants get
hard and stunted or tall and leggy.
Seedling growing mixes and containers can be purchased
or prepared similar to those mentioned for germinating seed. The
medium should contain more plant nutrients than a germination mix,
however. Some commercial soilless mixes have fertilizer already
added. When fertilizing, use a soluble house plant fertilizer, at
the dilution recommended by the manufacturer, about every 2 weeks
after the seedlings are established. Remember that young seedlings
are easily damaged by too much fertilizer, especially if they are
under any moisture stress.
To transplant, carefully dig up the small plants with a
knife or wooden plant label. Let the group of seedlings fall apart
and pick out individual plants. Gently ease them apart in small
groups which will make it easier to separate individual plants.
Avoid tearing roots in the process. Handle small seedlings by
their leaves, not their delicate stems. Punch a hole in the medium
into which the seedling will be planted. Make it deep enough so
the seedling can be put at the same depth it was growing in the
seed flat. Small plants or slow growers should be placed 1 inch
apart and rapid-growing, large seedlings about 2 inches apart.
After planting, firm the soil and water gently. Keep newly
transplanted seedlings in the shade for a few days, or place them
under fluorescent lights. Keep them away from direct heat sources.
Continue watering and fertilizing as in the seed flats.
Most plants transplant well and can be started indoors,
but a few plants are difficult to transplant. These are generally
directly seeded outdoors or sown directly into individual
containers indoors. Examples include zinnias and cucurbits, such
as melons and squash.
Containers for Transplanting
There is a wide variety of containers from which to choose for
transplanting seedlings. These containers should be economical,
durable, and make good use of space. The type selected will depend
on the type of plant to be transplanted and individual growing
conditions. Standard pots may be used, but they waste a great deal
of space and may not dry out rapidly enough for the seedling to
have sufficient oxygen for proper development.
There are many types of containers available
commercially. Those made out of pressed peat can be purchased in
varying sizes. Individual pots or strips of connected pots fit
closely together, are inexpensive, and can be planted directly in
the garden. When setting out plants grown in peat pots, be sure to
cover the pot completely. If the top edge of the peat pot extends
above the soil level, it may act as a wick, and draw water away
from the soil in the pot. To avoid this, tear off the top lip of
the pot and then plant flush with the soil level.
Community packs are containers in which there is room
to plant several plants. These are generally inexpensive. The main
disadvantage of a community pack is that the roots of the
individual plants must be broken or cut apart when separating them
to put out in the garden.
Compressed peat pellets, when soaked in water, expand
to form compact, individual pots. They waste no space, dont
fall apart as badly as peat pots, and can be set directly out in
the garden. If you wish to avoid transplanting seedlings
altogether, compressed peat pellets are excellent for direct
Community packs and cell packs, which are strips of
connected individual pots, are also available in plastic and are
frequently used by commercial bedding plant growers, as they
withstand frequent handling. In addition, many homeowners find a
variety of materials from around the house useful for containers.
These homemade containers should be deep enough to provide
adequate soil and have plenty of drainage holes in the bottom.
Hardening is the process of altering the quality of plant growth
to withstand the change in environmental conditions which occurs
when plants are transferred from a greenhouse or home to the
garden. A severe check in growth may occur if plants produced in
the home are planted outdoors without a transition period.
Hardening is most critical with early crops, when adverse climatic
conditions can be expected.
Hardening can be accomplished by gradually lowering
temperatures and relative humidity and reducing water. This
procedure results in an accumulation of carbohydrates and a
thickening of cell walls. A change from a soft, succulent type of
growth to a firmer, harder type is desired.
This process should be started at least 2 weeks before
planting in the garden. If possible, plants should be moved to a
45o to 50oF temperature indoors or outdoors in a shady location. A
cold frame is excellent for this purpose. When put outdoors,
plants should be shaded, then gradually moved into sunlight. Each
day, gradually increase the length of exposure. Dont put
tender seedlings outdoors on windy days or when temperatures are
below 45oF. Reduce the frequency of watering to slow growth, but
dont allow plants to wilt. Even cold-hardy plants will be
hurt if exposed to freezing temperatures before they are hardened.
After proper hardening, however, they can be planted outdoors and
light frosts will not damage them.
The hardening process is intended to slow plant growth.
If carried to the extreme of actually stopping plant growth,
significant damage can be done to certain crops. For example,
cauliflower will make thumb size heads and fail to develop further
if hardened too severely. Cucumbers and melons will stop growth if
Propagation of Ferns by Spores
Though ferns are more easily propagated by other methods, some
gardeners like the challenge of raising ferns from spores. One
tested method for small quantities follows:
Put a solid, sterilized brick (bake at 250oF for 30
minutes) in a pan and add water to cover the brick. When the brick
is wet throughout, squeeze a thin layer of moist soil and peat
(1:1) into the top of the brick. Pack a second layer (about an
inch) on top of that. Sprinkle spores on top. Cover with plastic
(not touching the spores) and put in a warm place in indirect
light. It may take up to a month or more for the spores to
germinate. Keep moist at all times. A prothallus (one generation
of the fern) will develop first from each spore, forming a light
green mat. Mist lightly once a week to maintain high surface
moisture; the sperm must be able to swim to the archegonia (female
parts). After about three weeks, fertilization should have
occurred. Pull the mat apart with tweezers in 1/4-inch squares and
space them 1/2-inch apart in a flat containing a 2-inch layer of
sand, 1/4-inch of charcoal, and about 2 inches of soil/peat mix.
Cover with plastic and keep moist. When fern fronds appear and
become crowded, transplant to small pots. Gradually reduce the
humidity until they can survive in the open. Light exposure may be
increased at this time.