Transplanting Vine Crops
There are advantages and disadvantages to transplanting vine crops that you should consider before making up your mind to transplant or start seeds right in the ground.
Transplanting gives you a head start of a month or more on the season, and it protects the seeds and seedlings from birds, insects, heavy rains, cold weather and weeds. On the other hand, starting seeds indoors and transplanting seedlings is time-consuming. And, if you injure the sensitive roots during transplanting, it will slow the plants' growth.
If you choose to start your own vine crop plants indoors, follow these steps:
Order disease-resistant seed in time to arrive three to four weeks before the last frost date.
Use a separate container for each plant, rather than tubs or flats, so you won't disturb the roots during transplanting. You can use peat pots, milk cartons or paper cups as long as you punch a few holes in the bottom for drainage. Or, try pots with sterilized soil mix already in them (Jiffy-7 pellets, grow cubes).
Moisten the soil thoroughly before planting the seeds. Then plant two seeds in each pot by pressing the seed into the soil with your thumb and covering it with half an inch of soil.
Group the pots together on a tray, board or rack, and slide the whole thing into a plastic bag to prevent drying. Place the pots in a warm spot with an even temperature. Don't place them on a windowsill; the temperature changes there are too extreme.
When the seedlings first show, remove the plastic bag. Place the pots under grow lights (no more than five inches away) or in a sunny spot to give them at least eight hours of direct sun each day.
Choose the healthiest seed-ling from each pot after a week or so. Pinch off the other; pulling it out will disturb the roots of the one you're keeping.
Water the seedlings when the soil is dry to the touch.
If you buy transplants from a garden center, look for stocky, dark green plants rather than tall, spindly or flowering ones. The plants should be in individual containers. You must harden these transplants, too.
Some pots come with instructions telling you to plant them along with the seedlings, because they'll decompose in the soil. However, plants generally do better if these organic pots are gently peeled off at transplanting time. The roots then have immediate access to the food and moisture in the soil at a time when it really counts.
Gradually toughen young seedlings, or harden them off, so they won't get sunburned, windburned or chilled after you transplant them.
Allow 7 to 10 days to harden your seedlings. When you start the process, don't water them for two days before you first bring them outside. From then on, water only when they really need it.
At first, place the seedlings in a sheltered spot away from wind and out of direct sunlight. Increase their exposure every day until they can tolerate a full day of sun. Then leave them out overnight, unless there's a danger of frost. After two or three nights outside, they're ready for the garden.
Once it's warm and your seedlings are hardened off, you can transplant them into a sunny garden spot.
First, soak the plants thoroughly. Moist dirt sticks to the tender roots, protecting them from rough treatment. Always transplant seedlings into slightly deeper holes than their original containers.
When everything is ready, take one seedling, tilt the pot and tap the bottom to loosen the root ball. The whole plant will slip out into your hand. If you use Jiffy 7's or peat pots, carefully tear the outer skin of the pot away from the roots, being careful not to harm them. If some of the pot sticks, leave it. You just need to remove enough so the roots aren't bound tightly on all sides.
Have some 2-inch newspaper squares on hand to wrap around the stems to prevent cutworm damage. Wrap a paper collar around the stem, so that it's one inch above and one inch below the soil surface, where it keeps cutworms from chewing on the tender stem. Set the plant into the ground at the same level it was in the pot, then firm the seedling into the soil to give the roots good contact with the soil.
Work quickly. Don't leave the seedling roots exposed to the air and light for more than a few seconds. Water each plant thoroughly before going on to the next. Once the plants are in the ground, care for them just as you would plants started outdoors.
This article is a part of our Vegetable Gardening Guide for Vine Crops / Planting.