Get a jumpstart on the season with transplants

Garden Chat

Garden Chat

It’s nice to have annual flowers blooming as soon as possible. Or be the first gardener on the block with cucumbers. You can get a jump on the season by transplanting seedlings as an alternative to direct seeding. In fact, for some plants the only way to get flowers or vegetables during our relatively short prairie growing season (90-110 days) is by growing transplants. Transplants of course cost much more than seed, whether you measure that in dollars spent at a nursery or in the time and effort you put in growing your own. Protect your investment and maximize your success by following a few simple guidelines.

Start with healthy looking transplant seedlings:

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Healthy seedlings will be dark green. Yellowing leaves is a sign of water stress or that plants are too small for their container (i.e. root bound).

The plants should be medium height with a thick stem. Long, leggy transplants will tend to dry out quickly and break off in the wind.

Look for cultivars recommended for your area. If you are unfamiliar with the cultivars for sale, ask your greenhouse grower what is special about the cultivar he/she is selling. For vegetables, you can review the results from the University of Saskatchewan vegetable trials to see what grows well here (

Harden off before planting:

All transplants need to be hardened off prior to planting out in the garden.

Hardening off helps to prevent transplant shock which can stunt or delay growth. Extreme transplant shock will result in plant death.

Starting two weeks prior to planting out, put the transplants outside in a sheltered, warm, sunny location for four hours a day.

Steadily increase the amount of time that the transplants are left outdoors until they are left outdoors overnight. Protect the transplants with a light cover for the first few nights outdoors.

Slowly increase the time between watering but give seedlings a good soaking when you do. Avoid drying out the seedlings to the point of wilting.

Plant when safe:

Once all danger of frost has passed, it is time to plant out your transplants into the garden.

Soil temperature should be at least 15˚C. If you don’t have a soil thermometer (and who does?), soil is usually warm enough in the third or fourth week in May in Saskatchewan.

Soil should be moist (not wet) and worked up before planting.

Gently massage the transplant root ball to break it up without causing too much damage. Do not rip the root ball apart.

The root ball must be COMPLETELY COVERED with soil to prevent the root ball and transplant from drying out.

Transplant after the hottest part of the day to prevent transplant stress.

Avoid windy days.

Provide wind- and frost-protection for young transplants. Open-ended milk cartons, hotcaps, supported crop covers and “water coats” provide excellent protection from wind and frost.

Water transplants with a 10-52-10 water-soluble fertilizer, mixed according to label directions.

Other Considerations: Some plants like cucumbers, melons, watermelon do not like to be transplanted and will produce fruit in Saskatchewan if direct-sown. However, if transplanted, plant only small transplants (one or two true leaves/plant) and use Jiffy 7 peat pellets:  avoid disturbing the roots as much as possible when transplanting. Other species such as peppers, eggplant and tomatoes must be transplanted in Saskatchewan, the growing season is too short for them to produce if directed seeded. Fortunately, these plants don’t mind having their roots slightly disturbed.

Jackie is a horticulturist living in Saskatoon.

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS;;; Check out our Bulletin Board or Calendar for upcoming garden information sessions, workshops, tours and other events: Gardening at the UofS – or call 306-966-5539. May 27, 9:00 am - Labour & Learn [a volunteer and learning opportunity, helping to maintain two public SPS gardens at the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park & Zoo].

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