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It’s just about time for Alaska gardeners to put plants in the ground. Here’s what to do now to get ready.

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: May 24
  • Published May 24

(iStock / Getty Images)

Let's face it. Gardeners do a lot of transplanting. If it isn't stuff we grow indoors ourselves, it's product we buy from nurseries or box stores. As veteran column readers know, all of this stuff has to be hardened off so it won't sun- or wind-burn.

I harp so much on the need to harden off all plants started indoors that I don't dwell on the other things you should do to make your transplant that much more successful. So be sure to consider these tips as well.

First, do not let your transplants dry out. Duh, right? But it is amazing how fast the soil of a plant in a small pot sitting in the sun and/or wind can dry. This means you have to check your starts twice a day. And, I mean really check them: sweep the leaves back and look at the soil. A dry plant is, at the very least, set back a week. At the very least.

Next, you should use a soluble, organic fertilizer every time you water your starts. Add it to a watering can. Not only will your starter plants take up the nutrients, the microbes in the potting soil will as well. This has the wonderful results of preparing both the new plant and some of its soil for best results after transplanting in the ground. Always fertilize things before you transplant, is the main point here.

Tomato plant starters are watered at the C Street Community Gardens. (Bill Roth / ADN)

And, if it is possible, don't use cold water on your starts. At the very least, set aside a large container with water in it and let it warm up. The water out of your tap is about 40 degrees.

At the same time, it wouldn't hurt to sprinkle a 1/8-inch layer of compost or vermicompost on your starts as they harden off. Compost has all of the beneficial bacteria, fungi, nematodes and Protozoa your soil needs to support your plants. Get that soil food web working even before the plant goes into the ground.

How about pinching back those plants that need it while they are in their containers? This way they don't have to deal with root shock and tip shock at the same time.

And, get things ready now so you can concentrate on just the job of planting when the time comes. You don't want to interrupt your cadence on planting out day! This year, that just might be in the middle of a week after Memorial Day. IMHO, it's been cold!

To keep cadence, when you buy starts you usually only get one label for four or six plants. If you want to know what you plant, then you will need to make some extra labels and it is easier to do this now, before your transplant. Don't forget to buy labels at the nursery and use permanent ink on them.

And, of course, the roots of all of your starts, other than members of the cabbage or blueberry families, should be brushed with a bit of mycorrhizal fungi before they go in the ground. Don't believe me just because I wrote a whole book on these fungal helpers. Believe the giant-pumpkin growers who use them to get record winners. And know they are sort of like the nitrogen-fixing bacteria we use on pea plants. They work.

This means you should have some around before you transplant so it is handy. At your next trip to the nursery, pick up ectomycorrhizal fungi for trees and shrubs, in general, and endomycorrhizal fungi for your annuals and row crops.

Next, water the garden areas that were going to receive your starts a few days before you plant in them, unless it has rained enough to do the job for you. This way the soil can warm back up again as your water is probably pretty cold (a reason to use a barrel or add hot water to the mix you put on your gardens). And, by pre-watering, you can plant seeds safely without having to then water and risk washing them away.

And, make sure your containers are in good shape. Replace rotting cocoa coir liners and wood. Fill with soil if they are not already. And, of course, clear out any weeds that got a jump start.

Jeff's Alaska garden calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: Join! Visit! Enjoy. alaskabg.org

Pots and flats and packs: Don't toss. Clean, stack and get ready to recycle on Pot Day.

Lawns: water.

Delphinium defoliators: Scout and find them and hand kill. Spray with Bt products

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