Transplanting Cole Crops
At last! You're ready to transplant your broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage seedlings. If you have a choice, pick a day that's overcast and moderately cool; too much hot sunshine or cold wind will be hard on the plants. Planting late in the afternoon also helps protect them.
Readying for Transplanting
Have everything ready before you lift a single transplant: well-worked soil; your rows marked off; water; fertilizer; two-inch-wide newspaper strips to use as cutworm collars; trowel or spade for making holes; seedlings.
Water the seedlings thoroughly while they're still in the tub, pots or flats. This causes the soil around their roots to adhere to the roots, protecting them from exposure to air and light.
Prepare each row step by step, rather than starting and finishing one transplant at a time. This way the plants get uniform amounts of fertilizer, even spacing and water, and the rows are generally neater.
First, make all the holes for the seedlings. Cole crop roots need large enough planting holes and loosened soil around them to take hold quickly. Use a trowel to dig 4- to 8-inch-deep holes. Space the holes 10-to 18-inches apart, depending on the crop.
Next, drop a small handful of compost or fertilizer in each hole and cover it with one to two inches of soil. This prevents the nitrogen in the fertilizer from burning any roots that touch it.
Do use the hole with water. By making it muddy and soupy, you create a complete moisture seal around the roots that helps each plant take hold.
Carefully lift a seedling from the flat, cupping the roots in your hand to protect them. The ideal transplant has more roots than leaves. You can create this situation by pinching off some of the big outer leaves on each transplant, making certain to leave the center "mouse ear" leaves.
Place a cutworm collar around the stem of each seedling, then place the seedling in the planting hole. Remember to put it at the same depth as it was in its original container. Scoop soil into the hole to fill it back to level ground. Firm the soil around the plant and water it well before moving on to the next one.
Transplant Insurance -- Cutworm Collars
Unless you protect your seedlings, cutworms can wipe out whole rows of newly planted transplants overnight. These smooth, black or grayish 2-inch worms chew through tender, young stems at ground level.
Luckily, it's easy to prevent cutworm damage when you're setting out your plants. The simplest way is to wrap the seedling stem with 2- to 3-inch strips of newspaper. You can also make a collar from a paper cup with the bottom cut out, a strip of cardboard or a tuna can with both ends removed.
Cutworms chew stems right at ground level, just above it or just below. In order to make your collar an effective barrier, place it so it extends 1- to 2-inches below and 1- to 2-inches above the soil surface. A strip of newspaper will last long enough to keep the damaging cutworms away from your younger plants without interfering with their growth. Paper cups, cardboard or tin can collars can be left around the plants all season. Some gardeners place a pencil-thick stick or nail next to the stem of the transplant. Cutworms need to encircle the transplant to cut it off and this simple trick prevents them from getting around the stem.