In the vegetable’s journey from seed to soil, gardeners nurture vegetables from dry seed to striving seedling. When the ground warms up to 60 or above, it’s time to move the plants outdoors to the garden.
Classic vegetables to start from seeds are tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, melons and both winter and summer squash. Starting from seed gives you control over the process through harvest, but the same planting process works with store-bought seedlings, too.
To make the transition from indoors to out easier, first “harden off” the seedlings, a process that takes about seven to 10 days. (Learn more about hardening off seedlings.)
When selecting and preparing a vegetable garden bed, remember:
- Vegetables soak up sunshine. Select a site with a minimum of six hours of full sun, preferably eight.
- Using a shovel or spade or rototiller, dig the bed to a depth or 6 to 10 inches.
- Edibles thrive in rich, loamy soil. Before amending the garden bed, test the soil with a kit from The Home Depot. The ideal pH is 6 to 6.5. To increase acidity, add sulfur, and to reduce acidity, add lime. Follow the instructions in our Take the Veggie Garden Soil Test Simple Tip.
- Use organic soil or compost labeled for vegetable garden use. Add compost to vegetable beds as soon as the ground warms, up to two weeks before planting. While planting, add 1 or 2 inches of compost per hole.
Tips for transplanting seedlings:
- Dig holes about 2 inches deeper and wider than the pots.
- If the seedlings are in peat pots, remove any plastic labels and tear away the pot. Put the peat pot in the composter.
- Slide seedlings from their cell packs: if dry, water them first, and allow to drain for about 10 minutes. Gently squeeze the bottom of the pot to loosen the soil. With one hand, carefully grasp the stem of the plant. With the other hand, squeeze and turn the cell upside down to slide the plant out. Gentle is the word here; you don’t want to snap or damage the plant stem.
- Loosen the soil around the roots by using your fingers to tickle them and fan them out.
- Position the plant in the ground at the same level as in the cell pack.
- Push out air pockets by tenderly pressing the soil back into the planting hole.
- Feed with fertilizer and give the seedlings a good drink of water.
Finish the garden bed with a couple inches of organic mulch to control weeds and preserve moisture. Give the plants about an inch of water a week and check for pests and weeds.