Purchasing vegetable seedlings at the nursery in the spring for outside growing can extend the gardening season by a month or more. In gardens in northern regions, where summers are short and cool, extending the season by a few weeks allows crops to mature and fruits to ripen. Transplanting seedlings properly gets them off to a good start. Preparing for transplanting requires gathering the necessary supplies.
A good garden shovel or spade is needed to dig the transplant holes in the garden. Large seedlings, like tomatoes, require a hole of 1 foot or more for the best start. A garden spade with a rounded point works best, but square shovels can be used.
Compost improves soil texture and drainage. Most gardeners prefer to add compost to the planting site when setting out seedlings. Mixing a quart or two of compost into the planting hole provides nutrients for young plants and does not pose a risk of burning young roots like granular fertilizer does. Well-rotted manure can be used in the same manner, but fresh manure cannot. If you choose to use manure on your garden, always use well-rotted manure to avoid injury to your plants and to avoid introducing pathogens to the soil.
Fertilizer comes in many forms. Many gardeners prefer granular fertilizer in a formula of 5-10-10 to provide supplemental nutrients to the soil. It can be worked into the existed soil or applied around the seedling once it has been planted. If you choose to use granular fertilizer, sprinkle a circle 6 to 8 inches from the base of the seedling and work it into the soil. Fertilizer releases nutrients naturally when exposed to moisture, boosting plant growth.
Seedlings must be watered at the time of transplanting. Saturate the soil to the root level to help young roots adjust to the new environment. Large plants, like tomatoes, require 2 quarts to a gallon of water at the time of transplant.
Plant protectors to cover plants in the event of a late spring frost are necessary. Likewise, protectors to shade plants from direct sun might be necessary. Makeshift sunshades from twigs with heavy foliage can be pushed into the soil to provide light shade from the sun. Place the twigs on the side of the plant that receives hot afternoon sun. Old milk cartons or 2-liter bottles can be cut to provide protection from frost.