Transplanting by Plant Personality Type and Needs

when to transplant a jalapeno

Transplanting jalapeno,
an impatient hothead

Transplanting a plant should be an easy exercise. If it’s too big for the pot it’s in, it needs a new pot. Right? It’s not like the plant is going to care. Right..?

Well, yes and no. For instance, I spent this afternoon transplanting the jalapeno from a little peat pot starter into a larger pot, even though it was still not all that big compared to its starter pot. BUT —and here’s where the fun happens— when it started growing, it was smack dab up against the edge of the peat pot, and it was way too small to move without risk. So I waited, for nearly a month as it turns out, until it had gotten a good enough foothold to be able to withstand the move. But transplanting the jalapeno meant learning what sort of a plant personality I was facing.

Transplanting the Drama Queen

Plants will mess with you. Some transplanted plants are Drama Queens, screaming their fool heads off about how terrible you are as a steward and how you abuse them at every turn. Threatening to alert the authorities, call the neighbors, raise a ruckus. Then the next day they’re all comfy and happy and settling in.

Transplant in the morning while it’s still sleepy, and maybe you’ll get the task done before it starts to panic.

Transplanting the Stoic

Then there’s the Stoic. Go for it. No, no anesthetic. I can take it. Just give me a log to bite down on and —(muffled) AARGH. No, nothing. Just a scratch. A shot of whiskey would be good. Thanks, dude.

REAL Transplanting Guide

  • Water the day before.
  • Transplant when cool or overcast.
  • Water just before digging up or taking out of its pot. Soak the root ball.
  • Water the hole here the plant is going.
  • Place plant into hole and fill halfway with water. Wait while it settles the soil.
  • Firm up the soil around the plant.
  • Water the whole plant.
  • Shield from direct sun (3-5 days).

When you’re not looking, the Stoic one faints dead away. Act fast before it wakes up.

Transplanting the Collaborator

There’s the Collaborator. All full of opinions and guidance. No, not that one. Too small. That one’s a mite wide. No, let’s go with terra cotta; gray just doesn’t do a think for my eyes. Mulch and a handful of —YES, that soil, that soil. No, not that one. That’s got that bleach odor to it. Well, ok. Yes, I can live with — wait! What about that one in the corner? Four days later it wants to move again.

Distract it and transplant based on your own logic.

Transplanting the Diva

There is never a good time to transplant the Diva. You are, after all, interrupting her routine and insulting her previous choice of pots by insisting on this gauche process. I mean, goodness. They certainly don’t make us do this sort of thing in Bel Air. Come now. Let’s get it over. I have a mani-pedi at 11 and tennis with Giorgio at 2. Oh for GAWD’s sake put down a tarp. That’s a 19th Century Kurdistan Herati!

Aim for late afternoon, and before the dinner party starts. She’ll want time to change.

Transplanting the Hothead

You might as well transplant this at high noon on a hot sidewalk or at midnight by the light of the New Moon; it’s going to want you to hurry no matter what. The jalapeno started yammering the moment I took it away from its nice warm perch in the growing room window, and didn’t stop until I got its roots firmly buried in a brand new 8″ self-watering pot worthy of a plant ten times its size.  Done yet? Done yet? Done yet? Oh for Pete’s sake are you done yet? You’re slowing me UP. I gotta GO. I gotta MOVE. C’MONNNN!

Aim for a nice quiet afternoon, with earplugs in place when you start.

Bottom Line

There are going to be some plants that were born mad, who don’t want to be pleased, don’t want to be happy, and don’t want to be transplanted smoothly no matter how careful you are. Work calmly and confidently, and don’t stop to pick a fight.




Here’s why you never want to try to save money on potting soil

happy staghorn sumac in his or her new pot

Staghorn sumac twin in his (her?) new 5″ pot, stretching out and sighing happily

Yesterday the message about selecting nice, clean, evenly textured potting mix hit home in a big way.

I’d noticed that, after sprouting and shooting up a couple of inches, the staghorn sumac twins had essentially stopped growing. I tried more water, less water, fertilizer-laden water, a drop or two of tea with lemon – nothing seemed to convince either of them to gain an inch.

I thought perhaps they’d sprouted too close together, but aside from the lack of vertical growth, they seemed rather happy with their arms wrapped around each other. And who was I to separate fraternal twins?

Well, as it turns out, I should have separated them sooner, performing the surgery which would save them both – and although I waited (who knows why), it was the right thing to do.

Each of the staghorn sumac twins is in his (her?) own little 5″ pot with completely new potting soil. In that potting soil you will not find chunks, clumps, big flats of bark, inch-wide bits of branch. All you’ll find is clean, evenly sized, well-moistened Miracle Gro!

When I took the twins out of their former pot – a peat starter shell – I noticed the soil seemed a bit disjointed and loose. So I peeled off the bottom of the pot, preparing to put the remnants into the new pot, per instructions. Instead, when the bottom came out, so did a large clump of peat capsule which showed no sign of growth inside. Above that was a layer of nearly rock solid soil chunks, capped with a thick layer of bark – hard as marble. The sumac twins’ barely there roots were less than a quarter inch long. No wonder the poor things weren’t growing. I might as well have planted them in cement!

I’m such a bad plant mommy. Trust me, no more generic potting soil. EVER.


PS – A belated Happy Summer Solstice to you!

Edible Exodus Part 3: Squash to the bunny-wolves

Underperforming yellow squash goes outdoors

Four or five leaves and a lot of courage on this squash

It was with very little hope that I transplanted an under-performing yellow squash into a soggy dirt patch next to the sprinkler puddle near the only evergreen in our front yard.

From 4:00 to 6:00 each morning, the sprinkler leaves a watering hole at the base of the pine. What better place, I thought, for an indoor squash to get its outdoor legs?

It’ll either grow like mad and develop leaves the size of yoga mats like its big brother in the dining room, or get eaten by the bunnies who stop in for lunch.

So I hardened my heart and planted the listless thing. It languished, one thin frond draped into the puddle, sighing softly as it awaited its doom. Note: Time of demise 07:55 a.m. Tuesday June 12, 2012. I wished it a safe trip to the big Garden in the Sky, and went on with my morning rounds.

Surprise! When noon came around, the bunnies kept their distance, feeding on a patch of tall something on the other side of the pine, and ignoring the squash.

This morning it looks even happier, even perky – if that term could be applied to a yellow squash. Maybe there is compassion in the animal kingdom. We’ll see how things look after today’s lunch rush.

4 pro gardener tips for successful tomato transplants

Transplanted three per pot, around the edge

This morning, six of the Beefsteak tomato seedlings from the original kit of 16 holes got transplanted into 8″ self-watering pots.

Before performing a transplant on these, I spent a few days researching suggestions from professional gardeners on how to do this safely and keep the vines in top notch growing condition.

  • Add an organic fertilizer after 4 weeks of growth. Follow the fertilizer instructions carefully.
  • Use a top grade potting soil, not dirt from the garden. Avoid potting soil that contains sticks and inorganic material.
  • Place each seedling into a hole as wide as its leaf spread, and as deep as its total height (roots plus stem), leaving the top leaves exposed. Cover with top grade potting soil and water well, to moisturize the soil.
  • Dice a banana peel and place in the potting soil to give the new plants some food.

So that’s how to give your new tomato vines more chances at productive growth, and you more chances at juicy tomatoes!

First, work down the side with the edges out

Once loosened, turn the spoons to lift out the root ball

Oh, a hint of my own: Rather than using trowels and risking the barely developed roots, I used a pair of plastic spoons and worked down the side of the peat seedling squares with the bowl facing the edge, to loosen the root ball. Once loosened, I grabbed it gently with the spoon pair and lifted it out and into place in its new home.

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The Edible Exodus Part 1

Topsy Turvy Zucchini (left) and yellow squash (right)

Yesterday afternoon, we pressed into service three of our seven Topsy Turvy® Tomato Planters – one for a then-small-now-large Roma tomato plant that we bought at Home Depot the middle of last month; one for the zucchini bought near the same time, and one for one of the yellow squash brought up from seed that has been taking over the dining room windowsill one inch at a time.

The box hints at great success.

You may remember how I mentioned, in the Rules for the Amateur Gardening Game, not to buy out the stores of any idea in particular. Actually I said “Don’t buy two when one will do, especially if your first instinct is to buy ten!”  – and I meant it! And I forgot it immediately when I saw a big sale on these planters, even though I had yet to try out the one I already had. Addendum to the rules: Do as I say, not as I do – and I admit that I forget to re-read those rules.

Speaking of reading: The first instruction on the device was to “Read all of the instructions before proceeding.” They mean it. Read, believe, read again – and prepare stuff ahead of time, like the hook on which to hang what will be a pretty durn heavy bag of dirt with a plant sticking out its bottom. When you finish reading, get out the handy hints brochure written by the inventor, and read that a couple of times, too – two pages crammed with insights!

Now there’s a good possibility that we were not doing this entirely right. It took two of us to wrestle the first plant – the Roma tomato –  into the Topsy Turvy® Tomato Planter – gently so as not to break off stems and branches and each other’s fingers.

Roma tomato

You have to put the foam collar on the plant BEFORE you put dirt in that bag. Yes, I read that instruction, too. I just managed to forget it between the time I read the instructions and found myself elbow deep in a plastic bag full of dirt with a plant sticking out its bottom.

We gently stuffed each plant into its own container and hung them up on hooks on the patio, west facing so the 6-8 hours of full sun is more likely. Once they were up in the air, it took some creative thinking to get the water up into the top of each unit to soak the soil without soaking the very short gardener (that’d be me). Since I can’t fly, we settled on building a low platform of concrete blocks, sturdy enough to step up on, wide enough that I’m not acting like a gymnast on a balance beam, and waterproof enough that it’s no biggie if the plants piddle a bit.

And piddle they did. Enough so that a few minutes after we’d finished cleaning up our workspace, the zucchini and yellow squash had attracted a family of curious robins, who sipped and feasted until chased away by a very short, still-damp gardener (that’d be me again). A few leaves didn’t make it through that encounter, but the next morning all three now-topsy-turvy-transplanted plants were still alive, and just a bit worse for wear. Despite transplant trauma, birdie visits and our persistent wind, they’ve survived the first 24 hours.

HINT: It helps to have two people and a few plastic grocery bags. Wrap a bag loosely around the exposed stems, leaves, and branches, then put the foam collar in place at the point where the rest of the plant will be buried in soil. Keep the plant upright, root ball down, while the other person lowers the bag over the plant. Guide the bag through the bottom hole until the collar is at the hole’s exit. Remove the bag carefully, bringing the leaves and branches free without tugging.

Topsy Turvy® Tomato Planters is a registered trademark of Felknor Ventures, LLC. Photo of front of Topsy Turvy® Tomato Planters product box may contain portions of copyrighted images.