Monday, April 2, 2012 By: Uwharrie Heirlooms

Not so fast if you're buying transplants

We will be starting our 2012 market season on April 5 at the Troy Farmers Market from 3:30 until 6:30. We hope to see you there.

APRIL 1 - One of my pet peeves comes about in late winter and early spring when the “plant mills” truck their wares to the garden centers and big box stores, many in full bloom and some with vegetables already hanging from the vine.

These stores are more than happy to take your money and, when your plants die, they're more than happy to take it again. They are feeding on your natural instinct to get out of the house and into the garden.

While these plants may look pretty and entice the novice gardener to buy, buy, buy, I feel that it is a less than honest way of selling plants and, in my opinion (and those of some others), such plant offerings does more harm than good for both the plant and the gardener.

Now I'm not talking about the early, cool-season vegetables, I'm talking about the main season vegetables, herbs and flowers.

And it's not just the big stores trying to send their plants home with you. Some smaller sellers may do the same thing.

Sure, you can go out and buy big bushy plants, spending a lot of money in the process, and you’ll have a garden with a lot of big, bushy plants. Odds are, those plants will sit there and not grow as fast as the smaller transplants that will adapt to the move better. The smaller transplants will usually catch up to, and probably pass the larger plants that were bought at a higher price.

Do the plants you’re looking at with the intention to purchase have flowers already blooming on them? They sure are pretty, but will they grow?

Maybe yes, maybe no.

When a gardener purchases transplants with blooms to put into the garden, the first thing to do, even before you dig the hole for the rootball, is to pinch off those flowers.


When a plant is in bloom, it is directing its energy toward the flowers, and not the roots. While you may get an initial flush of early flowers, you are actually sacrificing the later, more mature plantings for a quick blooming period before the plants end up sick and possibly dead.

Larry Bass, who is an Extension Horticultural Specialist of the Department of Horticultural Science in the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences at North Carolina State University has published a wonderful bulletin that is simply titled, Home Vegetable Gardening.

In this bulletin, Bass states, “If you decide to buy vegetable transplants, remember that the best choices are not necessarily the largest and tallest ones available. Tomato plants that have already started to flower are not the best choice because flowering places the plant under stress. Good quality transplants should be stocky with a healthy appearance, be of medium size, have a good green color, be free from insects and diseases, and have good roots.”

Another VERY important factor as to the success or failure of your garden is temperature. Each plant has different needs, but the air temperatures during day and night, as well as the temperature of you garden soil, will determine if your transplants will grow and produce.

2012 has been a very confusing season so far. As of this writing we are still ten days away from the expected last frost of the season, but many people are buying these large plants and putting them in the ground. There is still a possibility of freezing weather, although the later we get in the season the better your transplants have a good chance of survival.

Even though the weather may be nice, it is still too early for tender transplants of tender plants like tomatoes, peppers, basils and other annuals.

Night time temperatures in the 50s can stop a plant in its tracks, most notably the basils. Resist the urge to buy tender plants for early planting unless you have checked the soil temperature of the spot you intend to plant. A safe soil temperature is usually around 55ยบ or above.

If you plan to plant early, be sure to have some type of cold protection ready for your plants in case the temperatures decide to take a dip. I have seen killing frosts as late as the first week of May, so be prepared!

What I'm trying to say is, plant the right plant in the right place at the right time. Buy your plants from knowledgeable sellers who want to see customers succeed and not become discouraged when the plants they buy with good intentions don't perform to their expectations.

Plant sellers: It's not just about the money.

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Better Homes & Gardens gives the following advice on choosing healthy transplants for your garden:

Choose healthy bedding plants: Shorter plants, with lots of side branching and healthy stems, transplant and grow better than overgrown, gangly plants. If transplants have become root bound (roots are crowded and encircling each other), gently loosen the root ball at planting time.

Handling transplants: Transplant after the last frost date on a warm, cloudy day. Before you plant, prepare the soil by loosening it with a cultivator or hoe, leaving no bulky clods. Using a trowel, shape a planting hole large enough to accommodate the root ball of the transplant as well as its growth.

Easy transplanting: Set the root ball of the transplant into the hole, filling in around it with soil. Leave enough space between seedlings to allow each plant to reach its mature potential without crowding its neighbors.


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