Blackwelder column: Prepare the soil before transplanting

  • Posted: Friday, April 5, 2013 12:59 a.m.

The weather is becoming more spring-like and perfect for those considering a vegetable garden. April 15 is generally considered the last day to worry about frost in this area. However many are purchasing tender tomato and other vegetable transplants in an effort to get a jump on the season.

Before transferring plants to the garden, make sure that the soil in your garden has been properly tilled, limed and fertilized. Newly grown vegetable transplants often wilt, so consider transplanting on a cloudy day or late evening when the plants will suffer less water loss. Thoroughly water the soil in which the transplants are growing an hour or two before transplanting. Be sure to handle the young plants carefully to avoid disturbing or breaking the roots and bruising the stems.


Use a trowel to dig a hole large enough to accommodate the transplant container. Peat and other fiber pots are making a comeback in garden centers for vegetable transplants. These pots can be set directly into the planting hole since they will disintegrate and the roots will expand during the growing season.

Most vegetable plants should be planted at the original soil line of transplant, except for tomatoes. Tomato plants have the ability to develop roots all along the stems. Tomato transplants can be planted deep enough to leave only two or three sets of leaves exposed.

It’s important to apply a starter fertilizer solution at planting time to help the plants overcome transplanting shock and to ensure proper fertility during the initial growth period. Cool soils in the spring reduce the uptake of phosphorus, which is important for root growth and development. New transplants often turn a shade of purple, indicating decreased uptake of phosphorus. Adding a starter solution of water soluble fertilizer high in phosphorus content will help alleviate this problem. Starter fertilizers for vegetable transplants can be purchased at local garden centers as granular houseplant fertilizers that are mixed with water. Follow the instructions and mix these according to the label.

As you set the transplant into the soil, pour 1 cup of the solution around the roots, then finish filling the hole with soil. Commercially prepared starter solutions are preferable to home mixes because they have a higher proportion of phosphates to promote better root growth.

Wait a few weeks before mulching transplants. Try to use a clean wheat straw or other organic types of mulch for the garden. Mulches shade the soil, reduce soil temperature, conserve moisture and reduce soil crusting in the summer.

Darrell Blackwelder is the County Extension Director with horticulture responsibilities with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Learn more about Cooperative Extension events and activities by calling 704-216-8970.

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