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How to Take Care of Small Plants from a Nursery

By S.F. Heron ; Updated September 21, 2017
Small plants require an adjustment period after arriving home from the nursery.

Late each spring, homeowners travel in droves to purchase plants from local nurseries. Garden centers carefully cultivate these small plants over the winter months to provide plants for use in the home landscape. Nursery plants spend an entire life from seed to mature plant in the controlled environment of a greenhouse. Small plants from a nursery require special care to help establish the plant in the landscape.

Transport the plants home in a cool car. Do not leave the plants inside a closed vehicle for any length of time. Temperatures inside a closed car reach well over 100 degrees F and can rapidly kill small nursery plants.

Place the small nursery plants in a sheltered location featuring partial shade. Select a spot such as under the canopy of a mature shade tree or under a porch. This spot should feature at least a few hours of sun each day, but protection from wind and rain.

Water the small plants carefully on the soil around the base of each plant until water runs freely from the drainage holes of the transplant container.

Press one finger into each pot to check for dryness in the transplant pots. Any dryness below the soil surface requires immediate watering. Seedlings and small plants cannot tolerate drying out. Provide water regularly and monitor soil moisture levels for two to three days while the small nursery plants acclimate to outdoor conditions.

Move the plants into a less sheltered location that features conditions similar to the planting area for two days while continuing to monitor soil moisture levels in the pots. Expose full sun plants to six hours each day and partial sun plants to a full four hours per day. Partial shade and shade plants should remain in the original protected area.

Select transplant locations for the small plants in your garden or planters to match light and soil requirements for each plant. Cultivate the soil with a shovel around each planting site to a depth of 6 to 8 inches to loosen the soil. Throw a few handfuls of compost on top of the planting spot and work it into the soil with the trowel.

Dig a hole twice as wide and as deep as the transplanting container. Press each side of the transplant pot to loosen bound roots and compacted soil. Tip the plant into your hand or lift gently by the main stem. Score the root ball lightly with your fingers if it seems tangled and compacted.

Place the small plant into the planting hole so the top of the root ball lies even with the soil level. Fill in around the roots with soil and press firmly with your hands.

Mix a half-strength solution of water-soluble plant fertilizer and soak the soil around the main plant stem. Monitor the soil moisture levels daily to determine if the plant requires water. Gradually reduce the watering frequency as the nursery plant matures until the plant tolerates the common 1 inch of water per week from rainfall or the garden hose.


Things You Will Need

  • Shovel
  • Trowel
  • Compost
  • Watering can
  • Water-soluble plant food