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Four tips for helping your transplants survive the transition to Valley heat

Dig In video series: Petting young plants preps them for life outdoors

Master Gardener Debbie Courson Smith demonstrates transplanting, thinning, petting and hardening off seedlings in this third installment of the Idaho Statesman's Dig In gardening video series.
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Master Gardener Debbie Courson Smith demonstrates transplanting, thinning, petting and hardening off seedlings in this third installment of the Idaho Statesman's Dig In gardening video series.

We’re nearing the end of our cool and mild spring planting season. Hot early summer temperatures usually arrive in the Central Valley in mid-May. Young transplants and seedlings become stressed when daytime temperatures are higher than 90 degrees and when nighttime temperatures remain above 65 degrees. If you’re planning on putting a few more transplants into your garden in the next two to three weeks, here are suggestions for keeping them alive and healthy in early summer hot weather.

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Prepare the soil in planting beds ahead of time. Small transplants’ root systems need to develop and extend quickly in late spring; well-draining soil that retains moisture is crucial for faster root establishment before high temperatures set in. Beneficial fungi attach to plants’ roots and increase the roots’ surface area, therefore increasing the water-absorbing capacity. Compost or humus, earthworm castings and mushroom compost are good sources of beneficial fungi and microorganisms. The more amendments you turn into the soil when planting late in the season, the better the results.

Buy the best quality transplants. Look for short sturdy plants with dark green leaves and few flowers. Avoid leggy plants with light green leaves and those with fruit already set.

Choose the right fertilizer. Starter fertilizers that are formulated to not burn tender new roots have come onto the market in recent years. These fertilizers have lower percentages of the macro-nutrients nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K), listed in that order on the label. Some also contain micro nutrients, beneficial fungi and microorganisms.

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Apply starter fertilizers at the recommended rate to the root zones of new transplants when planting and every two weeks during the first month or two of growth. E.B. Stone (4-6-2) and Dr. Earth (2-4-2) starter fertilizers are good quality organic products. Fresh home-made compost is another good source of low-number, non-burning macro and micro nutrients. Remember that all plants go into semi-dormancy when temperatures are above 95 degrees. Cut back or stop feeding plants during hot spells and in July and August.

Plan on hand watering new transplants daily. If you’ll be planting your new transplants next to established plantings that are automatically irrigated on the mandated watering schedule, check soil moisture levels near the transplants or seedlings daily and adjust hand watering amounts to keep the soil consistently moist but not soggy. During extremely hot weather you might need to hand water twice daily.

Mulches slow soil moisture evaporation and act as an insulation blanket to mitigate soil temperature fluctuation. Lay down a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch but keep the mulch at least 4 inches away from transplant stems to help prevent stem rot.

Spring Garden Tour

The Master Gardeners of Fresno County will hold its annual Spring Garden Tour on Saturday, April 27 from 9 a.m. -5 p.m. Five gardens are featured on the tour as well as the Master Gardener demonstration garden, the Garden of the Sun, at 1750 N. Winery Ave. in Fresno. I suggest starting your tour early at the GOS to get in line for the huge plant sale. Download detailed maps and plant lists for each garden on the tour at ucanr.edu/sgtfresno. Tickets $35 at the gate.

Elinor Teague: etgrow@comcast.net
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