As a substitute for in-person programming, we’re offering a series of posts on starting a vegetable garden. This science-based information comes from the Seed to Supper program, developed by the Oregon Food Bank. During these difficult times, the Oregon Food Bank welcomes your donations.
OSU is also offering its vegetable gardening class online.
Transplants ("starts") can be expensive, so you want to choose the best. With starts, bigger isn’t always better. A stocky start with deep green leaves and roots that are not twisted around themselves is healthier than a taller plant that’s “spindly” or “leggy” with leaves that are yellowing and a root system that is “rootbound.”
If the transplants have come from indoors, it can be helpful to expose them to the outdoors gradually (“harden them off”) for a few days before planting them in the ground. Each day, increase the amount of sunlight and wind they get.
When your transplants are hardened off, space them in your garden plot according to “footprint.” They will look too far apart, but they’re not. If planted too close, the plants won’t thrive because they’re competing for nutrients.
Nursery transplants often come with more than one plant in a single pot. If you’re able to gently separate the roots without breaking them (as shown), you can plant each seedling separately. If the seedlings are too hard to separate, choose the healthiest looking plant and cut off the rest at soil level to keep them from competing. If the starts are root-bound (roots stay in the shape of the pot when you remove the plant), gently rough up the roots with your hands before transplanting. Otherwise, the roots may not spread and the plant won’t thrive.
Transplant starts in early morning or early evening to prevent wilting. Water the starts before transplanting and handle them gently. Dig a hole that is wider and slightly deeper than the root ball. The hole should be big enough that the top of the rootball does not stick up above the level of the soil.
Mix fertilizer into the bottom of the hole (about ¼ cup organic fertilizer). Set transplant in the hole so that the bottom leaves are at the top of the planting hole. Gently backfill the hole with soil (but do not compress it). Gently water the transplanted starts right away and keep them well-watered during the first week. The soil will settle, so you might want to add more soil to the planting hole after watering.
Tomatoes need to be transplanted differently. Dig a hole that is deeper than the rootball. Cut off the bottom set of leaves and plant the tomato so that only two or three sets of leaves are above the soil. New roots will form below the soil, growing from the section of the stem that you’ve planted.
Next up: Watering your garden