Considering Plant Needs When Growing Your Own Garden Transplants

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Growing your own transplants for the home garden can be very rewarding and beneficial. Especially since growing your own transplants is the best way to take advantage of newer cultivars that have been developed with favorable disease resistant traits. However, growing quality transplants can be a challenge for most home gardeners since they often do not have a modern greenhouse, and plenty of extra time to focus on transplant production. If you are a home gardener that would like to try growing your own transplants, here are a few things that you might want to consider to grow the best quality plants possible for use in the home garden.


Since plants undergo photosynthesis, it is important that they have plenty of light. This is probably the most limiting factor for home gardeners that keeps them from growing quality transplants. Many home gardeners grow their garden transplants near a window at home, taking advantage of the natural sunlight available. Natural sunlight is the best source of light for plants, but plants grown near the window may still need supplemental light. This is especially true when growing garden plants in the early spring months. For supplemental lighting, a balanced spectrum grow light, or a full spectrum grow light work best for growing plants. Standard 9W balance grow light bulbs that can fit into a shop or barn lamp are available at many garden centers or hardware stores at relatively in expensive prices. Just make sure to consider and follow any fire and electrical safety precautions that accompany the lighting equipment chosen.


Providing too little water will may result in plant death or stunted growth. Too much water may lead to damping off. It is important to monitor soil conditions closely for transplants since most potting soils are designed to drain well. Also make sure to use the appropriate water nozzle. Use a misting water nozzle for finely seeded plants to avoid washing out seeds or seedlings during the first couple of weeks after seeding. Use the misting nozzle until the seedlings get established well. Using a standard “shower” watering container or hose end is fine for watering established seedlings or for watering plants that have larger seed. In the first 1-2 weeks after seeding, during germination, watering 3-4 times per day may be needed. After the plants are well established, water less (1-2 times per day). Water even less, and consider moving plants outside when they get closer to transplanting time (6-8 week post seeding for most vegetable plants) to harden them off. It is also ok to let them wilt slightly before watering as a way to help harden off plants that are almost ready for planting into the garden.


Temperature is most important during germination. Before seeding, check the seed pack to see the recommended germination temperature. Using a germination mat may be necessary for some types of plants that require higher temperatures (70-90 F). However, keep in mind that germination heat mats will dry germination mixes out quickly. When using a germination mat, monitor watering needs very closely. This is especially needed for plants in the seedling stage when they are more vulnerable. As seedlings become established, for most plants, maintaining them at room temperature in the home is usually sufficient.


Make sure to start transplants so that there is enough to time for them to grow and be hardened off before being planted in the garden. The time required for transplants to develop prior to being planted in the home garden can vary depending upon the type of plant being considered. Most vegetable garden transplants such as tomatoes, peppers, and cabbages take on average 7-9 weeks of growing time before they are ready to go into the garden. Faster growing vegetable plants such as summer squash and melons may be ready to transplant into the garden in as few as 3-4 weeks. Before being transplanted, enough time should have passed for garden transplants to have developed good root balls, strong stems, and good sized true leaves. The plants should be easy to remove from the container in which they are grown.

Growing Media

It is important to use good growing media to start your transplants. A good growing media should drain well. Never use virgin top soil for growing transplants. It is better to use a peat based potting or germination mix. Avoid using growing media that contains slow release fertilizers. This is important because transplants, particularly in the early seedling stage when roots are beginning to develop, can be very sensitive to fertilizer or salts in the root zone. For smaller seeds, consider seeding into a germination mix, and later transplanting into a more course peat based growing mix. Seedlings started in a germination mix are ready to be transplanted into a more course growing media when they have developed their true leaves.


Most garden centers have a variety of containers that can be used to start seeds, or that can be used to grow transplants by home gardeners. Some containers can be used for multiple gardening seasons, however it is a good idea to clean them well and sanitize them properly to avoid disease or insect issues. One popular practice with home gardeners is to make containers for growing transplants from recycled materials such as cups or egg cartons. There is nothing wrong with using recycled materials! Just make sure that the materials will provide adequate drainage. This may require putting holes in the bottom of homemade containers to make sure they do drain well.

Seed Quality

One of the most common causes of germination failure for home gardeners raising their own transplants is the use of poor quality seed. Purchasing seeds off of the discount rack at the end of the season may be a tempting idea; however, understand that those seeds will probably not germinate as well. If using heirloom seed that have beens saved from last year, it is important to make sure that the seeds have been sanitized or treated to prevent disease. Some seed companies market seed that has already been treated with a fungicide to minimize seed borne disease problems. Before purchasing any seed from a garden store, check the packaging date to gain an idea of how old the seed might be. It is best to purchase seed from a reputable company that offers a warranty or guarantee.


It is possible to grow your own quality transplants at home. These are just a few things to consider. If you would like to discuss how to grow your own transplants in greater detail, or if you encounter any problems while growing your own transplants, make sure to contact us at N.C. Cooperative Extension in Yancey County. We can be reached by calling (828) 682-6186, or send an email to David Davis (