Decisions regarding when and where to Put Out your seedlings do not have to be confusing or complicated. A well educated gardener can make informed decisions regarding when to Put Out by taking into consideration just a few, simple factors. There are many great gardeners who have come before you and you can learn from their successes and their mistakes.
IS MY GARDEN READY?
You may be tempted to place a precious seedling into your soil on a particularly sunny day when you are in the mood for a little gardening But it is important to use not just your heart, but also your head. And getting to know your garden is extremely important before deciding to put out.
First you need to know your Zone, and this information can be easily found online. Your particular zone will have, from year to year, its own unique "Put Out" date, when it is believed that there is no longer a chance of a frost. Take this "put out" date as a general recommendation. Gardening should not be mechanical and you may have some other personal factors to work around. For example, it may be difficult to put out when you are working, while your kids are having a play date, or when your in-laws are in town. Simply delaying your put out by a couple of days will not cause harm to your specimen or to your garden.
Back to the web, I must caution you that there is a lot of misinformation out there. Sadly there are websites that are just trying to make money from objectifying your beautiful garden. They do not truly care about the best interest of your soil or your blossoms, so be sure you are dealing with a reputable source in order to avoid frustration and embarrassment.
Beware also of Zone Envy. Though I often wish that I was a zone 4 person, I happen to live in Zone 5a. There are many Zone 4 specimen that I adore but after many unsuccessful plantings, I have finally come to terms with my zone and stopped trying to make it something it is not. I have wasted a lot of time and money by planting specimens that simply have no business being in my zone. Sure they may look pretty, seem exotic, smell nice or taste good, but these experiments ultimately fail. This can lead to discouragement, remorse, and sometimes even shame. It's best to respect your zone, appreciate these specimen from a distance, leave them at the nursery, and just walk away.
The next step is to really understand your soil. In this article from Fine Gardening http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/hows-your-soil-texture.aspx, the author explains in great detail how to perform tests in the privacy of your own home. Obtaining informative and useful results involves understanding the importance of the depth in your sampling, the nuances of texture, your soil's ability to hold moisture and nutrients, and of course, fertility considerations.
IS THIS SEEDLING READY?
Also noted in this article is, "There is is no hard and fast rule to how tall a plant should be before you put it out in the garden due to the fact that different plants grow to different sizes." Simply put, do not judge your seedling by its size as it has nothing to do with how well it will perform. Just ensure that your specimen has an appropriate level of maturity by making sure that it has at least 3-4 "true leaves". Otherwise you risk causing permanent damage to this young specimen. There really should be a law against it, in my opinion.
Once you have decided that your soil, zone, and seedling conditions are ideal for putting out, you still shouldn't rush the process. It is important to respect your seedling's transition through a process called "Hardening off." In an article titled How To Harden Off Your Seedlings, http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/problems/how-to-harden-off-your-seedlings.htm, the author explains how the 'Hardening' process will make your plants grow stronger and perform better when you finally place them in your garden. Here is a pic of some of my babes getting used to the elements before taking the final plunge into the dirt.
While putting out too early can be detrimental to your garden, so too can be putting out too late, as noted in an article by Gardeningknowhow.com http://paulstamatiou.com/how-to-quickie-embedded-flickr-slideshows/. "If you put [your seedlings] out before they are ready, they may have a hard time surviving the elements. If you wait too long, your seedling may become pot bound in its original container." If you have never seen a root bound seedling, it's not a pretty sight. It can be really difficult for this root system to create a successful planting,this is always a bit of a disappointment.
Please see my post on companion plantings while deciding which plant should go where in your garden. It's like eHarmony for plants!
It is usually at this point that I take a post about gardening and toss in some analogies to psychology and life. However "putting out" is such a sacred topic that one risks trivializing its importance by making trite comparisons, so I will save any analytical ponderings for another day. As Freud said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."
My name is Cherie and I live in Southern Maine with my husband and two young children. I have a Master's Degree in Counseling Psychology and still have about 10k in remaining student loans to prove it. I left the field of practice three years ago, so this is not the place to be posting any suicide notes, okay? But if you want to hear about my garden and my gremlins, my pests and my problems, well then you just sit right down and read on!