All posts by Jordan Charbonneau

Basics: Transplanting

The weather is getting warmer! In zone 7a, we’re transplanting out bulb onions, and we’ll soon begin to transplant out cold hardy crops like brassicas. After you’ve grown healthy seedlings, how well your crops transplant will determine how quickly they adapt to the field, how healthy they are, and how soon they produce. Here’s how to transplant seedlings for a bountiful season. 

Hardening Off

When we start seedlings indoors, we carefully control the conditions. Seedlings are grown under artificial lights and kept warm and moist. These conditions are ideal for starting seeds but are very different from the conditions seedlings will face in the field. As we get close to transplanting, we need to prepare our seedlings for field conditions in a process called hardening off.

Hardening off seedlings means slowly adjusting them to the light, moisture, temperature, and wind they’ll be exposed to. Generally, the longer you allow plants to harden off, the better. 

Hardening off seedlings means slowly adjusting them to the light, moisture, temperature, and wind they’ll be exposed to. Generally, the longer you allow plants to harden off, the better. At least a couple weeks before transplanting, we begin hardening plants off by moving them outdoors for a couple of hours per day, starting in a sheltered, shady location. We carry them back indoors at night. Gradually, we increase this time over the two weeks, exposing them to more wind, sun, and varying temperatures. If you do this too quickly, the sun and wind can burn the tender seedlings.

If it’s cold in your area, you can also use cold frames, greenhouses, and hoop houses to begin hardening off your seedlings earlier. While they’re still protected from wind and buffered from the temperature extremes, they will get more light exposure.

It’s also a good idea to adjust seedlings to the watering they will experience in the field. Rather than keeping the seedlings constantly moist, it’s a good idea to let them dry out some before watering. 

Choose Your Day Carefully

Even after adequately hardening off, transplanting is difficult on tender seedlings. We pull them from their pots, disturb their roots, and plunk them into the soil outdoors, where they’re exposed to natural conditions. You can minimize their stress by choosing an appropriate day to transplant. 

Ideal transplanting days are cool and overcast. Not having to cope with strong sun can help avoid wilt and encourage seedlings to adapt quickly and begin growing. If your schedule doesn’t allow for a perfect day, try to transplant in the evening. 

Child with a hoe in between rows of lettuce and cabbage seedlingsLoosen & Improve the Soils

We already covered preparing your beds in another basics post. Even with a previously prepared bed, I like to dig a slightly larger transplant hole than needed and loosen the soil. I also like to add a bit of fertility to the soil. Mixing a bit of compost or fertilizer into the bottom of the transplant hole can help give plants a boost. Stir it into the soil well to avoid burning the plant’s roots.

Transplanting Tips

Once you’ve hardened off your seedlings, prepared your soil, and have a good day, it’s time to plant! You want to plant most plants at about the same level as they were in the pot, meaning that the soil is at the same level on the stem. 

However, you should plant some plants like tomatoes and leeks should deeper. Tomatoes can be buried up to their first leaves, and they will produce roots along the buried portion of their stem. Planting leeks deeply allows you to produce leeks with thick, blanched stems. If a crop is new to you, it’s a good idea to do some research to see what your plants like.

If your plants are root bound, gently loosen the roots a bit to encourage them to spread into the surrounding soil. If you’re using peat pots or a similar compostable pot, you may want to tear them a bit to help allow the roots through. If any part of the peat pot sticks above the planting 

Water Seedlings Well

Thoroughly soak your seedlings after transplanting, particularly if the soil is dry. Keep up with watering consistently, especially while the seedlings adapt. If you’re watering by hand, try to avoid splashing soil onto the plants, particularly tomatoes and other crops susceptible to blight. Drip irrigation is ideal.


Mulching around your seedlings can improve productivity and minimize labor. Mulching with old leaves, wood chips, straw, or other materials can help prevent weeds, retain moisture, and add organic matter. It also can help keep soil from splashing up onto the leaves. Soil splashing onto leaves is one of the ways soil-borne fungal diseases will infect plants.  

As we head into March in Virginia, it’s time to start transplanting. You can ensure healthy crops and a bountiful harvest when you take the proper steps when transplanting seedlings. 

Herb Garden: Spring Maintenance

Spring is an exciting time! It’s easy to get caught up in the rush of starting annuals, building new gardens, and adding new plants to our spaces. It’s also important to remember to care for our existing gardens. Spring is an excellent time to look at and refresh our kitchen herb or medicinal herb gardens. 

Tidy Beds

While it was once common practice to tidy herb garden beds in the fall, many of us now hold off on this chore. Various pollinators and beneficial insects use our gardens’ dead leaves and plant materials as winter habitats. Insects like solitary bees, butterflies, and predatory beetles depend on these materials to overwinter or as a place for their eggs or pupae. 

It’s best to wait until temperatures are consistently above 50°F to do your cleanup to help support these garden helpers. Then you can remove any dead material and trim perennials like lemon balm.

It’s also an excellent time to go through and pull any early weeds before they get a chance to take hold. A stirrup hoe can be a handy and quick way to remove small weeds. 

Add Compost to Your Herb Garden

Compost improves your soil by adding nutrients and structure. Adding compost can help heavy soils drain better and help sandy soil to hold more moisture. For most gardens, adding 2 to 3 inches of finished compost is a good idea once you have everything tidied up. This will allow you to get new annuals off to a good start and give perennials essential nutrients to put on good spring growth. 

It’s important to know your plants. Some herbs, especially those from the Mediterranean, like lavender and rosemary, don’t generally need or enjoy rich soil. Around these types of plants, you may only need to add compost every couple of years. 

Compost should be spread on top and gently raked in. Be sure not to disturb the roots of perennials or cover their crowns with compost. 

Mint PlantDivide Perennial Herbs

Early spring is an ideal time to divide many perennials. Spreading herbs like hyssop are good candidates for this. Take a sharp shovel and cut a clump in half or smaller sections. Try to damage the roots of each section as little as possible. Fill in around any section you leave with compost or good soil.

Dividing is easy but is a lot like transplanting annuals. There are a few essential steps to make sure your plants thrive. The first step is to stress your plants as little as possible. Avoid sunny days and transplant on cool, overcast days if possible. Transplant them into loose soil and add compost if needed. After transplanting, water your plants thoroughly and keep them moist while they get established.

You may also need to move plants to rearrange your garden or those that have self-seeded in less-than-ideal spots. Moving plants is very similar to dividing. You want to use a sharp shovel or trowel and try to get all the roots and disturb them as little as possible. 

Your divided or moved plants may wilt initially but will quickly recover if you’ve followed these steps. 

Mulch Your Herb Garden

We use mulch in all of our gardens, and it has many benefits. Mulch can help suppress weeds, keep the soil moist, and add organic matter as it breaks down. You can use whatever type of mulch you wish, but it’s best to avoid using dyed ones, especially around edible plants. 

Generally, you want your mulch to be about 2 inches thick, but some find 3 inches works better with coarser material. Don’t use too much mulch, as it can block air from the soil. Avoid putting mulch directly over the crowns of plants, as this can prevent new growth and cause crown rot in some species. 

Carefully Plan Any Changes and Additions

While completing your spring chores, taking stock and making a plan is a good idea. Did all of your perennials make it through the winter? What annuals did you enjoy most last year, and which did the best? What herbs did you run out of this winter?

Careful consideration can help you maximize your gardening efforts this season. When adding new beds, drawing them out on paper is a great idea. You can also use stakes and string to mark out their location.


Spring is fun, but we must remember essential maintenance. Completing these five tasks can help ensure you have a beautiful herb garden this summer. 

How to Prepare Garden Beds

The weather is starting to feel like spring! While we’re not quite there yet, it is an excellent time to start preparing beds. Before long, we’ll be transplanting cold hardy crops like onions, broccoli, cabbages, and cauliflower and direct sowing peas, parsnips, spring greens, and more. Whether starting from scratch or taking care of an existing garden, follow this guide to prepare garden beds for planting season.

Plan and Mark Out the Bed

New Beds

If you’re starting a new bed, it’s a good idea to start with a plan. You’ll need to consider the dimensions before gathering materials for raised beds. For beds in the ground, I like to use wood or old tent stakes and string to create a layout. This can be especially to ensure you leave enough room for pathways between beds.

Existing Beds

When preparing existing beds, it’s a good time to think about what was planted there last year and what will work well there this year. Proper crop rotation is vital to a healthy garden.

Remove the Vegetation

This is the first step major step in preparing a bed for planting. It’s best to remove the vegetation and complete the following steps when the bed is moist but not wet. Working with soggy soil is more difficult and can lead to compaction. 

New Beds

If you have access to a rototiller, simply tilling in the sod is a common choice. You’ll probably want to till early and then again as new growth comes up. This will help with weed issues down the road. 

If you don’t have a rototiller or don’t want to use one, a common choice for larger beds is to solarize the soil. Stretch clear plastic, like the kind for hoop houses, over the garden bed as tightly as possible and weigh it down. After a few weeks, depending on the weather, this will kill the vegetation. It’s tough, but you can also remove sod by hand with a shovel if necessary.

If you’re building a raised bed, hugelkultur mound, or lasagna garden, you can put down a layer of cardboard that will kill the grass.

Existing Beds

This process should be easier in existing beds. If you’ve planted cover crops into your beds, you can use a scythe or mower to kill them or till them into the soil, depending on the cover crop variety. Many gardens use their cover crop residue as mulch and plant directly into it.

If your beds are weedy, you have different options depending on the size of the beds and weed growth. For smaller beds or those with minimal weed growth, you may want to grow through with a stirrup hoe or similar tool and kill the weeds by hand.  You can also solarize the bed like I mentioned for new beds above or lay down cardboard or newspaper to smother the weeds.

Loosen the Soil

If you’ve just tilled your garden, this step may be unnecessary. However, loosening the soil in no-till gardens or existing beds is a good idea. I like to use a broad fork. Broad forking the soil essentially lifts it without turning it over. It doesn’t destroy beneficial bacteria or fungi like tilling, but it creates space for water and air in the soil and a softer bed for roots to grow into. 

Another option is double digging. This process is hard work, but many gardeners swear by it. To double dig, you remove the layer of topsoil and set it aside. Then break up the layer of subsoil and mix it with organic matter. Finally, you replace the layer of topsoil. Though it’s hard work, all you need is a spade, and it creates great fertile, well-draining soil. Fine Gardening has a more in-depth piece on double-digging available here

Amend the Soil

Before planting, you’ll also want to amend your soil as needed. I recommend adding 2 to 3 inches of finished compost to new and existing beds before planting. It adds fertility and improves drainage. 

Ideally, you’ll also have had a soil test done and will know whether your soil needs other amendments. If your soil is too acidic, you may need to add lime or amend for specific nutrients.

Set Up Your Watering System

It’s also important to consider how you will keep your garden watered before planting. Drip irrigation is an increasingly popular choice, even for home gardeners, because it’s highly efficient and less labor intensive. If you’re going to set up a watering system, it’s often easiest to do so before planting. Lay out your drip irrigation or sprinklers and set up timers for a low-maintenance watering plan.

Mulching and Keeping Beds Weed Free

It may seem odd to mulch before planting, but it can save you from weeding later. Add 3 to 4 inches of mulch to your beds to prevent weeds from germinating. Transplants can easily be planted through the mulch, or you can rake it aside to direct seed rows and pull it back once plants get established.

Spring will be here soon! Follow this guide to prepare your garden beds for planting. Stay tuned and follow us on social media for a future post on transplanting or check out our older posts covering the basics of when and how to start seedlings indoors.