While some of the more mountainous areas may still experience a frost, it is probably safe for most of us to plant our tender annuals and vegetables.
Besides waiting for the temperatures to warm up, there are a few simple steps we can do to help ensure a successful transplant. The first step is to harden off the plants. What this means is you have to get the plants used to the outdoor conditions a little at a time or the shock of the move from inside to outside could harm or even kill the plants. To harden the plants, you will have to bring them outside for about an hour the first day, a few hours the next day, and a little longer the next day and so on. Continue this for about a week. During this process, do not let the plants sit out in direct sun. They might get burned by the sun or dry out too much.
After hardening off the plants, pick a cool and cloudy day to transplant the plants into your garden. No matter what you are transplanting - a flower or a vegetable - the first step is to pick off all of the flowers and/or fruit. This will allow the plant to focus on creating a hardy root system. A large, robust root system will in turn mean more flowers and vegetables later in the season. After picking off any flower or fruit, the next step is to soak the plants with water. This will help avoid shock.
For tomatoes, dig a hole deep enough to cover the entire root ball as well as a few inches of the stem. For peppers, the hole should be deep enough to cover the root ball as well as about one inch of the stem. For any other vegetable or flower, you want to plant the transplant at the same level it is in the pot.
Next, break up the root ball a bit. If the roots have been trained to grow in circles in the pot. You don't want that in your garden. Add a bit of water to the bottom of the hole and if you like a small amount of fertilizer. Too much fertilizer can kill the plant. Fill the hole with soil while holding the plant up straight. Pack the soil around the root ball and water thoroughly.
For the next few days, water the plants every day. The most important thing to remember when transplanting is to be very gentle with the plants to avoid shock. Drastic changes in temperature, moisture, or too much direct sun during the transplanting process can cause shock. And, over the course of the summer, enjoy your garden!
Anne Lenox Barlow has had experience in the agricultural field as a horticulture educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.