Early Days – caring for seedlings

Having grown your seeds or bought some seedlings from a nursery you’ll be wanting to get them out of their pots and into the ground. Before planting get the ground ready and make sure the seedling pots are thoroughly watered. this will help the roots settle in their new home and lessen any potential damage in getting the plants out of the pot. Gently remove the seedlings from their pots and if there are several in one pot carefully tease the plants apart. Try not to damage the roots. If you have bought seedlings from a nursery check the packaging for the distance needed between each plant. A rule of thumb for many veg is to leave 20 cms between plants, but allow more space for plants that grow big and bushy. Try not to leave seedlings sitting around in the sun while you are planting them as they will dry out very quickly.

Lettuce

Young chicory and lettuce seedlings

Most seedlings will wilt after being transplanted. We always give our seedlings a drink of weak weed or comfrey ‘tea’ (the standard description is that your liquid mix should be mixed with enough water to a very pale brown colour like a cup of very weak tea). If you don’t have vats of this smelly stuff hidden in your garden you can use a very dilute solution of Charlie Carp or a seaweed tonic. This will help get your plants off to a good start. Its important to make sure that you water your seedlings in well and then give them a top up drink every day for the next few days after planting. They should start standing upright very quickly. Look for new shoots and leaves as a sign that your plant has fully settled in.

Now there is nothing that snails and even slaters like to eat so much as tender young seedlings. Whether you use snail bait or not is up to you (if you do, follow the safety instructions and use as sparingly as possible). One of the things we do to help our young plants is make a barrier around our seedlings. We make these by cutting milk cartons or even the plastic milk containers into sections. While this will not stop a determined snail they do seem to work remarkable well in most cases. These barriers also act as a mini windbreak and help produce a ‘micro-climate’ that gives seedlings a bit more of a chance. Once the plants have grown a bit larger – they are less attractive to snails as they grow up – you can easily remove the barrier.

Squash

An Italian squash seedling from the variety called “wrinkled from Friuli”

A final step we take is to mulch the surface of the garden beds, using either sugar cane mulch or pea straw (which we get from the nursery). I would generally not use grass clippings unless they were completely dry, because when they are wet they will rot down and are likely to take nutrients away from your plants. Having bare soil around seedlings is a throwback to older Australian (read European) gardening practices which really aren’t relevant to gardening in our climate. Just make sure you keep the mulch away from direct contact with your plants. This will help avoid any potential fungal problems, but for my money also it makes it more difficult for snails and slaters to sneak up on your plants.
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