Monday, April 23, 2012

How to Transplant a Seedling

If you're like me and don't have children or pets, you might feel as if there's a hole in your life.  A longing that just won't be quenched; an emotional need with no apparent fulfillment in sight.

I'm talking, of course, about the hours you don't spend taking pictures, the entire days that sometimes go by with nary a Facebook status update, and the fact that you don't lie in wait like Coleridge's Ancient Mariner for someone to happen by and ask you if anything cute has happened at your house lately.  It's a wonder we even manage to fill all those pesky hours in the day.

Lucky for us, there's gardening.

I touched on the idea of gardening and its benefits a few weeks ago, but that was way back when my babies had barely broken the surface of the soil, and there have been such amazing photo opportunities since then.  From the tray of 72 tiny units where they got their start, several of my darlings have gotten so big that they've needed to be transplanted to their very own pots.

Watermelon catching some afternoon sun on the back porch. 
Tomato in the matching terra cotta that's all the rage this season
The first transplant is a very tricky process, and can be scary for first-time parents gardeners, but if you follow these steps you should have success every time.

1)  Assess the situation.  A transplant is a shock to a young plant's roots system, and you don't want to take your little one out of its home until you're sure it's ready.  Take a look at the bottom of the tray.  You should see quite a bit of root poking out.  The stem of the plant should also look and feel sturdy enough that it won't break if it's handled.  Hold the stem gently between your thumb and forefinger.  If you get the sense that you're going to kill the plant just doing this, it's not ready to transplant.

2) Prepare the new pot.  The new pot (or hole in the ground, or soda bottle cut in half, whatever you've got) should be filled with soil that's loose enough for the seedling to plop right in.  If necessary, make a hole in the center that's about the same size as the space where your plant currently resides.

3) Pop it out.  I say "pop" because you want as little disruption to the root system as possible.  Hold the stem of the plant very gently as close to the soil as you can in one hand while squeezing the plastic encasement with the other.  Ideally, the whole thing: roots, dirt and all, should come neatly into your hand. (Make sure the soil is wet when you do this; that way the soil will hold together nicely.)

4) Tuck it in. Now the hard part's over.  All that's left is to plop your baby in to his or her new big-kid bed and, using both hands, pat the soil down. You can use a little more pressure with this step; the idea is to mesh the two types of soil together so that the roots will continue to grow outward and downward into the new soil.  You'll probably also want to give it a little water after this, and make sure it's right in the sun so it can start repairing any damage to the root structure that may have happened in the move.

And of course, don't forget to snap a picture and post it on Facebook!

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