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The pros and cons of transplanting

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Posted: Saturday, May 5, 2012 10:47 pm

FAIRBANKS - My leeks are left alone now, except for the occasional trimming of the leaves by around half an inch so the plants will get stockier. Most of my attention is going to the sowing of other seeds and transitional transplanting.

Almost every seed can be started in flats or cell packs, with pumpkins and other hard-shelled squash being an exception due to the size of their seeds and their explosive growth rates. However, by the time they reach a month or six weeks of age, the likes of tomatoes and marigolds will be outgrowing their six-packs. It may be only three more weeks until you safely can transplant outside, but a lot of growth will happen between now and then.

Some believe that transplanting is actually good for plants. One such advocate is Nancy Bubel, author of “The New Seed-Starters Handbook.” According to her, transplanting hurts some roots so “a new, bushier network of feeder roots is formed.” It also gives the plants more space not only below ground but also above ground. If a plant is put in a larger container, it will have more light and air because six plants transplanted to six cottage cheese containers cannot be mashed as close together as they were in a cell pack.

Third, Bubel feels that, “Although seedlings started in soil-less mixes seem to be able to subsist on liquid feedings for quite a while, I like to get my plants into a good soil mixture so they can take advantage of the micronutrients and the beneficial interactions in the microscopic soil life.” Finally, early transplanting forces you to notice and eliminate the weakest seedlings.

Whether you transplant as soon as the cotyledons emerge (cotyledons are the two rudimentary leaves that appear first; the “true leaves” appear next) or wait longer, the process is the same.

Fill the new containers with soil. Whether using seed-starting medium, potting soil, compost or good gardening soil, add a third as much seed-starting medium to lighten it.

Make a hole large enough so the roots can be spread out. Using a dull knife, pencil, popsicle stick or chopsticks, gently lever each seedling out of its current home. It seems counter-intuitive to maneuver the plant by using the leaves and not the stem, but the latter really are very delicate. Lose a leaf and there are others. Lose a stem and you've lost the plant.

Seedlings can be set in slightly deeper than they were in their original homes, but never cover the rosette if the plant has one. Rosettes are when all the leaves come from a central point at ground level, with no stem to speak of — think strawberries. Cover that and the plant will stunt and/or die.

Tomatoes are an exception to transplanting only a bit deeper. They can be set in up to the set of leaves at the top. Do cut off the leaves that are about to be buried.

Water the transplants and leave them alone. They may wilt, but they will recover. In fact, I don’t put them back under the lights until the next day.

Columnist note: Hospice of the Tanana Valley is having its annual plant sale fundraiser on Saturday, May 26, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at its greenhouse on 20th Avenue and Turner Street. There will be an abundance of perennials, flowers, vegetables, hanging baskets, house plants, trees and shrubs.

Linden Staciokas has gardened in the Interior for more than two decades. Send gardening questions to her at

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