For millions of Americans, gardening is a hobby that can be relaxing, satisfying, and productive, while providing a moderate amount of physical exercise. Backyard gardens can produce armloads of flowers and bushels of vegetables, and form an attractive view for the homeowner and their neighbors. Beginners and experts, the very young and the very old---all can enjoy some type of gardening.
How Plants Are Started
Some plants can only be propagated from cuttings, or by grafting, while most plants are started from seed. It isn't difficult to learn how to take cuttings and root them to get a new plant---and with just a little more skill, fruit trees and other plants can be grafted. An easy-to-read guide is "Seeds and Propagation" by Susan McClure (Workman Publishing, 1997).
Seeds Versus Transplants
Seed catalogs offer thousands of varieties, so when you find a favorite tomato variety you can keep growing it year after year, or at least for as long as the seed company continues to sell it. The range of transplants (baby plants), whether from mail-order catalogs or a local garden center, will always be more limited---they offer only the most popular varieties, and your favorite might not be among the top-sellers.
The Advantages of Transplants
Transplants offer several advantages. They are already growing, so you don't have to worry if the seeds you planted will germinate and grow. Secondly, they are probably a variety that will do well in your climatic area. Last, but not least, transplants give you an almost instant garden.
How to Buy Transplants
A reputable local nursery or garden center is the best place to purchase transplants. You might pay a dollar or two more per plant than you would pay at a big-box or chain store, but knowledgeable staff will give you good advice, and the transplants will be healthy and acclimated to your geographical area. Plants sold at chain stores have often traveled thousands of miles from where they were grown (which is probably climatically quite different from where you are), and they may not have been watered appropriately or kept at an appropriate temperature during transport. They are also often sold at the wrong time of year for planting in your garden.
Setting Transplants in the Garden
Prepare the soil by working in plenty of good compost. Water the area thoroughly with a hose or sprinkler, so the soil is nice and moist (but not wet) before the transplants are set out.
Choose a cool day, or late afternoon or evening for planting. Transplants get stressed while they are being set in the ground. They need a cool evening and night to recover and settle in a bit before the hot sun comes up the next day.
Scoop out little holes for the transplants, pop them out of the plastic pot or cell, and GENTLY place them in the holes. Keep the garden soil at the same level as the soil in the pot. (The only exception to this is tomatoes, which should be planted a couple of inches deeper.)
Care and Feeding
Now carefully and gently "water them in" with a watering can or a hose spray head that gives a nice soft shower. This water will push out any little air bubbles around the roots, and give the little plants a much-needed drink. Keep the soil moist but not wet. They might continue to look a bit sad for a day or two, but they will soon pick up and start to grow into healthy plants.