Blackwelder: Healthy transplants grow best

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 22, 2011

SALISBURY — Garden shops, farmers markets and retail markets are at the brim with vegetable transplants.
Producers have evolved over the past years from bare-rooted vegetable plants to plants grown in state-of-the-art containers. Eco-friendly paper containers are also popular, replacing the need for plastics.
Start with good, healthy plants before planting. The plants should easily pop out of the plastic containers, exposing the fibrous roots. The roots should be white and healthy. Avoid plants that have dark or decaying roots.
Select plants that are vigorous with good color. Avoid buying plants that are small with weak root systems, as well as those that are tall and pot bound.
Before transplanting your vegetable plants, make sure the soil has been properly tilled, limed and fertilized. Unseasonably warm and windy days stress young and tender transplants. Watch the weather and try to transplant on a cloudy day or in early evening when the plants will suffer less water loss than on a hot, sunny day.
An hour or two before transplanting, thoroughly water the vegetable transplants to facilitate removal and reduce shock when removing from transplant trays. Young vegetable transplants are very tender, so handle them carefully to avoid disturbing the roots and bruising the stem.
It’s best to use a trowel to dig a hole large enough to accommodate the container. Peat, fiber and paper containers can be set directly into the planting hole — they will disintegrate when they are in contact with the ground.
Most vegetables should be planted at the same depth as they were grown in the container. But tomato plants are an exception. These plants have the ability to develop roots all along the stems so they can be planted deep enough to leave only two or three sets of leaves exposed.
Use a starter fertilizer transplant solution after planting to help the plants overcome transplanting shock and to ensure proper fertility during the initial growth period. Even though the air temperatures may be warm, soil temperatures are still cool, reducing uptake of some essential elements.
Phosphorus, the nutrient necessary for good root growth and expansion, is not readily available in cooler soils. A starter solution can be a water-soluble houseplant fertilizer high in phosphorus content, with a formulation such as 10-52-17. (The second number represents the proportion of phosphorus.) Use recommended rates per label instructions. While planting, pour 1 cup of the solution around the roots, then finish filling the hole with soil.
Darrell Blackwelder is the director with horticulture responsibilities with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County.
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