If you haven't already gone out and bought your veggie starts and seeded the shit out of your food garden plot, do I have some useful-ass shit to share with you. Even if you have already visited your garden centre or picked up some tomatoes from the grocery store, read on so you don't hate yourself if you get a pathetic harvest when you did EVERYTHING else right.
Save yourself the tragic failure and follow these guidelines before you buy and plant.
1. ALL TRANSPLANTS ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL
Where you buy your starts will drastically affect how they will grow. Why? Because some people are no better equipped than a small, 3 legged dog at raising a healthy, baby plant. These people usually work at a grocery store or home improvement shop and selling plants is just a viable add-on sale for them/their corporate bosses.
Picking up bananas and TP? Why not take some pepper starts on your way out?
Gotta go out and get some screws and walnut deck stain? HEY, why not grab some kale plants while you're at it? What about blueberries?
It would seem here that you're killing two raptors with 1 rock, but really you're just buying some stuff you need and adding on a damaged baby that is going to be a constant source of disappointment until it finally one day kicks the bucket.
That's what plant starts from Generic Home Design shop are: damaged goods. The infancy stage of a plant is just as important in a plant as in a human. If you have no idea how to be a parent and you give your baby a cardboard box to live in, throw food and water at it sometimes, offer zero love, and pump it full of prescription drugs so your kid falsely appears to be healthy, you're going to have a piece of work with zillions of irreparable issues on your hands. Whoever adopts that kid is in for a rough ride.
Moral heroism aside, if you were to choose between adopting a sickly, psychotic hellion that will never be the child you wanted, or taking home a sweet, healthy, happy baby, which addition would you welcome to the family? Don't fucking lie. Given the choice, you'd take a viable, strong, pest resistant tomato start that will give you a kick ass harvest for all the salsa your heart can can this fall. You don't want a piece of shit that looked good when you bought it but grew 2 inches since you planted it, got plagued by aphids and gave you 3 tomatoes. I know you don't. So do yourself a favour and don't buy your veggie and fruit starts from bad adoption centres.
Instead, go to a nursery, farm, or your local farmer's market. Their starts may cost $1 more and they may look more spindly and small, but when you plant them, they'll massively outgrow and out produce the Starbrucks Brand cucumber start you got while you were secretly getting a venti, triple chocolate, extra whip frappuccino.
2. plot before you plant
Decide where you are going to put all of your starts before you plant them so you don't have to go back and move things around. The less disturbance the better. A great way to accomplish this is to take your starts out or their package and set out your design before you plant. Then you can just plop em in, no problem. Try this zig-zag pattern. You'll be able to fit more than you would if you were planting in rows and you'll minimize weed growth and moisture loss. Win win. But before you do......
3. Never plant a dry guy
Most plant starts are grown in a type of soil (like peat moss or coconut coir fibre) that holds moisture and won't compact baby seedlings. It works like a sponge. Similar to a sponge though, if it is allowed to dry out, it's a bitch to saturate again. If you sprinkle water on a dry sponge, it'll probably just bead off and get your counter wet. But saturate that sponge and wring it out and it'll absorb the shit out of your water spritz.
Transplants work very similarly. If your lettuce start is marinating in a dry soil plug, when you plant it in the ground, it's gonna stay that way. All the water that you diligently feed it is just going to wet the surrounding soil and weeds. Save yourself the wasted water bill and dead lettuce and water that guy prior to planting.
**TIP Fill a bucket or bin with an inch or two of water and set your whole pack of veggie starts in for 5 minutes. Their roots will suck UP the moisture and be nice and satiated. No guessing games. Leave it. Come back. Prepare to plant.
4. Be a root tease
Often times, potted plants will spend a little longer in their constricted temporary homes than they would like, (like when you broke up with your bf/gf and had to rent that drippy concrete basement suite with the fluorescent lights and dungeon toilet. You know, the one with the salmon pink painted walls and ceiling that made you feel like you were taking a shower inside a massive vagina) so they're gonna need some help learning how to adjust to the great wide open. Some of their roots are going to be smushed up at the bottom and others are going to have roots that, in a desperate effort to find growing space, have circled around the inside of their pot, slowly strangling themselves to death. If you just plop these guys in as is, they may not realize that they now have a nice big ass house to stretch out in, and they'll continue on their suicidal trajectory. To help these masochistic roots find the sweet soil of life, just break up the bottom of the roots with your hands. Or slice open the bottom and side of the tangled roots. This will free up some danglers to get their downward motion on.
5. prepare your hole
If you somehow ended up with a compromised transplant, it's ok. We can deal with that. Just dig your hole, throw a handful of compost at the bottom, water the hole and THEN put your start in. This will give him some food and water right away. He's had a hard fuckin day, man. He's been tossed around, had his bits sliced and fiddled with, and been jammed into a foreign environment. He's tired. His leaves are likely going to be all wilty and shit. Don't make him wait. Give him some lovin right away to minimize his naked discomfort.
Alternatively, if you have healthy starts and you amended your soil already, just make space for it and secure him into place. No biggie.
7. TIMe the big move
Plant your starts in the early morning or the evening, Don't ask your transplanty guy to endure an onslaught of baking heat after all he's been through. Give him a nice cool home to figure his shit out.
8. PUSH IT GOOD
Once you have put your guy in the ground and you've covered him in soil, give him a good solid press down. Pressing the soil on top of the transplant will ensure that the soil is making contact with the roots. Otherwise, your transplant may just be flailing in an open hole with no root contact to his new environment.
That's it, that's all. Follow these simple guidelines and you'll start on the right foot, rather than planting a piece of shit that's going to require more love, attention and wound repair than you can ever give.