Starting Your Own Transplants
WHY? Commercial greenhouses do a good job of growing transplants,
so why should you bother? There are many reasons but the most
important ones to me are:
- I like seeing those seeds sprout and grow in my kitchen in February and like being in on the whole process of growing the
vegetable -- start to finish.
- I can choose from 200 different varieties of tomatoes, instead
of just the dozen or so that will be available as transplants.
The same wider choice is available for broccoli, onion, squash,
- I can have transplants when I want them in just the right
quantity. (Have you ever tried to find fall broccoli transplants
HOW? Sometimes efforts to start vegetable seedlings indoors
disappoint beginning gardeners. The most common complaint is that
the plants are leggy and more spindly than those available from
greenhouses and garden centers. This is due to too little light.
Of the components needed for starting seeds and growing healthy
seedlings -- soil, a temperature of 65 - 75 degrees, water, fertilizer
and light -- light is the most difficult to provide. Windowsills
and lamps with incandescent bulbs are simply not suitable for
growing quality plants.
- I control the treatment the transplant gets and am assured
of high quality, vigorous plants. Lack of care from the retailer
often stresses commercially produced transplants and they may
never perform well for you.
- I like to use lots of transplants, so producing them myself
saves me money.This brings us to the question of why use transplants
anyhow? Why not just plant seeds?
- In some cases, like tomatoes, it's pretty obvious -- we would
never get a crop. Certain long season vegetables need a headstart
on the growing season
- In cases where it's not absolutely necessary, transplants
often are recommended to maximize production. Keeping your garden
space full and busy is one of the cardinal rules of intensive
gardening. I can sow leaf lettuce directly into the garden and
let it occupy a bed for 2 months or I can set out transplants
and be eating lettuce in a month.
- Transplants fill up a bed faster. That makes for less weeding
and more efficient use of water.
- Another principle of intensive gardening is spacing plants
so that they have exactly the amount of room that they need. Correct
spacing is easy with transplants, but very haphazard with direct
Fluorescent lamps are still the most available, affordable and
widely used lights for growing plants indoors. The light fixture
needs to be adjustable, so that it can be lowered to a position
2 to 4 inches from the plant's tops. The amount of light provided
by fluorescent fixtures drops dramatically as the light fixture
is moved farther above the plant.
Since the quantity of indoor light is far below that of sunlight,
keep the fixture on for at least 16 hours a day for growing vegetable
seedlings. An inexpensive appliance timer can be very handy, so
you don't have to remember to turn the light on and off. Keep
the bulbs clean, as dust reduces the light produced
A few more notes:
- Use clean, cell packs or recycled cartons or containers.
- Fill them with a quality potting soil or soil-less mix that
is sterile and pH balanced.
- Water gently or from the bottom with room-temperature water.
- Once a week use a soluble fertilizer with a 1:2:1 or 1:2:2
ratio. Use it at half strength.
Time Required to Produce Transplants of Various Crops
|Lettuce and most greens||2-3 weeks|
|Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower||4-5 weeks|
|Onion and leeks||5-7 weeks |
| Peppers & Eggplants||7-8 weeks|
| Squash & Cucumbers||2 weeks|
WHEN? Timing is very important. You don't want
transplants ready before the garden is ready for them, but you
want them ready on time. Here are some guidelines that should
help you time your transplant operation:
- The squash family should be sown into individual peat pots or 4 inch pots and handled as little as possible. The others can be sown in a seed tray and then "pricked out" to proper spacing about the time they get their first true leaves. If you do this double transplant, give them another week.
- When counting back remember that Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, okra, peppers, pumpkins, squash and tomatoes should not go into the ground until it gets warm. That's usually mid to late May in the Puget Sound area. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks can go out in April and chard, lettuce, mustard and onions can be planted as soon as you can work the ground in March.
- Be sure to add a few days for hardening off your transplants. Exposing your transplants to outdoor conditions for several days in gradual steps will prepare them to endure the cold and the direct sun. See " Hardening Off Transplants."
By Holly S. Kennell, WSU Extension Agent, King County
For more information contact your local WSU Extension Office.