Monday, April 11, 2016

Growing a Garden: Movin' Your Plants Outside

It's been raining, it's been snowing, and you know what that means....

......workable soil!!

That's right, now that warm temps are stretching across the US, the precipitation we sneered at last week is melting and seeping into the earth. I love when this happens because soft dirt means I won't throw my back out want to die allllmost kill myself struggle to pull up weeds and dig holes. The cold, freezing rain is gloomy but glorious I tell you! Time to get outside!

We've already conquered some of the hardest steps in growing our garden. Moving your plants outdoors is comparatively much easier than starting seedlings indoors. In fact for me, one of the laziest gardeners on the planet, tending to the outdoor garden is one of the best, most enjoyable aspects of the whole food-growing process.

Unfortunately it isn't as easy as just tossing your seedlings out there....but I promise it's not too bad... plus you get a little you get a tan (or sunburn, if you're more like me).

You may not be ready to plant outdoors yet and that is ok! I will not start moving my plants outside for another 3-4 weeks. The average date of the last frost for my area is between May 1st and May 10th. Now if the weather is warm and sunny, those babies are going out there for recess...but I will not actually plant them into the soil until I know the threat of frost has passed. You can check out your average last frost dates here. Just type in your zip code and whammo! Data!

Order Matters
I made the mistake last year of planting everything at essentially the same time. This is fine if your plants all mature at the same rate...but my plants? I was planting squash at the same time as corn at the same time as beans and then wondering why my plants weren't growing very well. My squash, which I planted intentionally to shade out the weeds, shaded out my bean seedlings! And by the time the corn started growing, it tugged up the soil that my squash needed to stay healthy - I couldn't exactly tell where I'd planted my corn so I planted my squash too close! Sometimes, especially when you're trying to companion plant, you need to plant in succession. So instead of planting all my stuff at once, I will plant my corn first, let them get a little tall, then plant my beans, let them climb strong, then plant my squash and let them spring into summer.

This year I will also be putting my pest control plants (nasturtiums and marigolds) in the ground earlier than anything else because I want them to be well-established by the time my little veggie loves get in the ground. In the past I've always direct sown my marigolds, but by the time they bloomed and offered much pest protection, it was harvest season! This year I started them indoors and will direct sow new plants mid-summer so I can get good pest control coverage from spring through fall.

The best way to manage planting order is to pay attention to maturity times on the back of your seed packets. When that doesn't work, imagine the growing season in your head. Sit back and picture the way your plant will grow and imagine the light patterns and time it will take before that plant produces fruit. If I'd just considered how my plants grew, I could've predicted that my marigolds wouldn't bloom in time to be pest-resistant in the summer and my beans wouldn't get enough sun through all the leaves. Imagery! It works!

Wind and Sun
Remember when we discussed choosing the perfect location for your plants? Now is the best time to reevaluate and make sure everything is in order. Little seedlings are especially vulnerable to strong winds and heavy downpours. Fences are a great way to block the wind; plant on the south side of the fence so it doesn't block the sunlight. The sun patterns change a little every day, too, so make sure your ideal growing spot is still getting the light you need. And when push comes to shove, you can always rig up a neat little row cover to protect your babies from a late frost of heavy precipitation. Learn how to make them here.

Hardening Off
You can't take a teeny little baby plant and suddenly stick her outside all alone and expect her to live. She needs to adjust to the outdoors gradually...and that adjustment period is called "hardening off." When your little ones are ready to go outside, start by placing them out there for an hour or two at first. Then extend their time outdoors to 4 hours. Then half a day. Let them become accustomed to the outdoors gradually - it will lessen the transplant shock!

This step is so fun. Grab some soil and your hardened-off seedlings and get outside. Dig a hole. Add some compost to the soil and mix it up. Place your seedling in there (if you used a creative seedling vessel, like toilet paper rolls or eggshells, you can just toss 'em in there!). Cover it up with your dirt/compost mix. Give it a nice sprinkle of water. And then smile...cuz you just transplanted a plant :)

Remember when I said you'd get a workout? Yeah this is when that happens. Your plants are still young and prone to weed takeover. Keep a close eye on your garden beds and make sure invasive plants do not creep into your seedlings' lives. I'd say about 90% of my gardening time is pulling up weeds and invasive plants. It's hard work and you gotta keep up with it or else it'll go nuts. But your seedlings will love you for it and will gift you with the sweetest fruits of your labor come harvest time.

I told you it wouldn't be too bad! Planting your seedlings outside is one of the best parts of growing a garden. The weather is warm, the sun is shining, and the dirt therapy makes you feel splendid.

Did you miss a Growing a Garden series post? Don't worry! Click the links below to catch up!
Where Do I Start?
Starting with Seeds
Organic Pest Management
What to Do While Seedlings Sprout

Are you as overjoyed as I am to see this warm weather? What are your spring plans or gardening tales of wow and woe? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you for reading :)



  1. Well, my little beginner garden is off to a great start. The peppers, zinnias and nasturtiums have germinated and the lupine, mallow and cherry tomatoes are in the dirt. The yogurt cups, pudding cups and fruit cups have worked great for their little sprout beginnings. I did end up buying really inexpensive florescent lights and they are doing the trick. I’m a little worried about my compost because it doesn’t seem to be breaking down very much. Farm and Fleet sells manure but I’m not keen on filling my Elantra with manure bags! Anyways, thanks for the post, Jennifer, and happy gardening!

    1. So glad to hear it! How wonderful! And those lights are the best, aren't they? I am so glad to have mine. And they are cheap and last a while! Well worth it. And do not worry about the compost - mine takes an entire season to break down because I don't keep it warm enough. I have two piles - one I worked on last year (and will use in the beds this year) and one I add materials to this year and will use in the garden beds next year. Decomposition takes time, man! :)

  2. My daughter and I just put our seedlings outside this morning. I'm getting antsy to move them outside permanently (my counter space is suffering) but I know I'll be rewarded for my patience.

    1. Right on! When I get antsy I start researching places to move...places with longer growing seasons haha!! A girl's gotta have long-term goals, am I right??!?

      Thanks for stopping by Jen! :)