Home gardeners will soon be buying bedding plants from local garden centers and greenhouses. Bedding plants include annual flowers and vegetables. Selecting strong, healthy plants and proper planting should help insure a successful start to the gardening season.
Select short, stocky plants with dark green foliage. Avoid tall spindly plants. Smaller transplants become established in the garden more quickly than larger ones. Smaller plants are also more productive. Short, stocky, six-week-old tomato transplants, for example, will produce more fruit than larger tomato transplants that have already started blooming. When selecting bedding plants, big is usually not better.
Bedding plants purchased from greenhouses or garden centers should not be planted directly into the garden. The intense sun and strong winds may damage or kill the tender transplants. Bedding plants should be "hardened" (acclimated to outdoor growing conditions) before transplanting into the garden. Initially place the plants in a shady, protected site. Then gradually expose the plants to sun and wind. Closely watch the plants during this period. If possible, check on them several times a day. The potting soil can quickly dry out on warm, sunny days. Plants left unwatered for a short time can quickly wilt and die. Thoroughly water the transplants when the soil surface is dry to the touch. Bring the plants indoors overnight if there is a possibility of frost. Frost tolerant seedlings, such as cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower, can remain outdoors. After 7 to 10 days of hardening, the bedding plants should be ready for planting.
Most annual flowers should be planted outdoors when the danger of frost is past. A few frost tolerant annuals, such as pansy, sweet alyssum, and snapdragon, can be planted one to two weeks earlier. Cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower transplants can be planted outdoors in early April in southern Iowa, gardeners in northern counties should wait until mid to late April. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, melons, and other warm season vegetables should be planted after the average last frost date in your area.
If possible, set the plants into the garden in the evening or on a cloudy day. Planting at these times lessens transplant shock and allows the plants to recover somewhat before being exposed to direct sun. Many annuals, such as petunia, snapdragon, salvia, and periwinkle, should be pinched back to encourage branching. Others, such as impatiens, are self- branching and don't require pinching. It's also advisable to remove flowers on blooming annuals. Blossom removal aids plant establishment. Vegetable transplants should not be pinched.
When watering newly planted transplants, apply a starter fertilizer solution to each plant. A starter fertilizer solution can be prepared by mixing 2 tablespoons of an all-purpose garden fertilizer, such as 5-10-5, in one gallon of water. When the fertilizer has completely dissolved, give each plant approximately 1 cup of the starter fertilizer solution.
This article originally appeared in the April 7, 1995 issue, p. 41.