When transplanting little plants out into the big garden it feels like sending your child off to their first day at Kindergarten. All kinds of things can happen to them in the big world. For children… that’s too large a topic for me (Kindergarten mother survivor here). For plants I can give you some advice.
Besides watering too much or too little, and root disturbance while transplanting, little guys can be eaten by bugs, birds or other animals, or simply get lost and overlooked. (Here is a container growing tip: as your seedlings sprout and grow, gently pass your hand across them every time you are with them. It will make for stronger stems.) (And its fun!)(And you can pretend you’re ruffling their hair and say things like, “Hi, Sonny.” Or not.)
A day before transplanting out of a container or from a nursery bed, water the sprouts well. If they’ve been in containers for awhile those roots may be going in circles and the water can’t penetrate from the top very well. If that is the case, put the pots in water for half an hour until moisture is wicked into the pot thoroughly, then allow to drain. I say to do this the day before because if you water just before planting the soil around your root ball will fall apart, breaking fine hair roots and shocking your poor little guy. Some plants hate their roots being touched so much that this would kill them. By the next day after watering the container will still be moist, but the soil should be solid enough to stick together when tipped out.
Dig a hole twice as wide and twice as deep as your plant, then backfill with a mixture of good compost and the soil from the hole. This will help acclimate the roots to the soil change. Water the hole, and if you’re really industrious water with compost tea. Set your plant into the hole and firmly press the soil around the plant. If you are planting tomatoes, eggplant or peppers (all in the same family) you can set the plant more deeply into the hole; they will form more roots from the stems and become sturdier. The rule of thumb otherwise is to plant so that the soil level of the hole is the same as that of the transplant; many plants will rot if soil is up against their stem. If it is too low, the roots will be exposed and dry out. Potatoes can be trenches and hilled up as they grow, or maybe you will try trashcan or crate potatoes. If you live in an arid area, plant in shallows so that rain can accumulate around the plant. If you live in a wet area, plant on hills so water can drain off. Or if you’re practicing permaculture, plant on the swales!
So your little guy is in the ground and gently tamped in. To keep off the birds and bunnies and mice and rats and whatever else is looking for dinner, I use plastic berry cartons turned over and set in place with sticks or with rocks on top. Reuse and repurpose! They are also good for protecting figs . The cartons allow enough sun in, and also makes it very obvious where the seedling is so that you don’t step on it, or weed the little tomatoes out with the almost identical ragweed sprouts. For larger plants, turn over a milk crate.
I have no native quail in my yard. Due to nearby houseing developments, there aren’t many quail around me anymore. Quail would fill the niche of beetle and sowbug eaters. My hens want only worms, spoiled things, and their big feet do a lot of damage if not watched.
Sowbugs cluster under mulch and do damage to stems and fruit.
I use a little food-grade diatomaceous earth around the seedlings, new sprouts in the garden, around the strawberry plants, and also around plants such as artichoke, corn and chard where ants have begun to farm aphids.
I use it around the trunks of my stonefruit trees to stop the ants, and have been told that it works well around the legs of beehives in lieu of or in combination with cups of oil to keep out the ants. Diatomaceous earth is the finely ground bodies of ancient sea creatures (diatoms). The powder on a microscopic level is full of sharp edges.
When a sectioned insect such as an ant, flea or sowbug crawls on it, it rasps their tender areas and dessicates them. Not something I really am happy about doing to the bugs. I’m only using it on a very small scale. Remember that any insecticide, even DE, kills many kinds of insects not just the targets. You don’t want to eradicate your insects; most of them are helping your plants and your soil. DE will melt into the soil when watered, but only reapply if you still see the target bugs. The problem might already be taken care of.
Use food-grade DE, not the kind that is sold in pool supply stores. FGDE is used in graineries to keep weevils and other bugs out of grain and beans, so you’ve been eating it for years without knowing it. It doesn’t hurt us, nor is it bad to breathe (some people wear masks that they can get from https://accumed.com/n95-mask-for-sale-respirator-safety-face-mask-z1.html, just in case). It is a great, natural and inexpensive way to fight fleas without paying big money for poisons to put on your pet. I have it all over my cats’ bedding.
They sell DE sprayers, but they become clogged. The easiest and least expensive applicator (which can be repurposed)? A condiment dispenser. You know, the plastic mustard and ketchup squeeze bottles in diners. I bought a set of two for $2. You can practice a little to dispense a finer dust.
So I plant my little guys, give them a drink, squeeze a little DE around them, give them a berry basket hat until they outgrow it, then take it off to use elsewhere. If there is still a threat to your plants from critters (somebody was eating my eggplant leaves last year! I mean, really…ick!), then turn a wire gopher cage over the top or make a wire cage to fit and use sticks or landscape staples to fasten into the ground.. These, too, you can reuse yearly.
I had a frustrating time with seeds already this season. There is a limited time when I can use my greenhouse (which doesn’t have all the frills such as fans, automated watering and window-opening) because the weather here becomes warm very quickly. I planted six flats of six six-packs each of various seeds. Many were coming up when a mouse tunneled underneath and not only ate all the larger seeds but dug into most of the rest of the cups, tossing or burying the small seed. I tried again, but the little guy found another way in. It is difficult to plant seeds around the property due to not having overhead watering, and having such a healthy insect habitat. So instead I’ve turned one of my raised beds into a nursery bed. I planted 26 types of veggies in good garden soil. They’ll come up and grow good tap roots, then be ready to transplant out to wherever I want them. Some will stay in this bed, and some will be given to friends because, after all, there are only so many tomato plants I can have.
The bed in front of the nursery bed is the one where I scattered mixed seeds a while back, and now have a healthy crop of collards, broccoli rabe, celery, parsnips, carrots, kale, garlic, leeks, lettuce, arugula, peas and others. Mixing seeds helps confuse predators and keeps the plants healthier.