How to Transfer Your Seedlings to Your Outdoor Vegetable Garden

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Starting your seedlings indoors is a smart move before moving them outdoors into your vegetable garden. It can save you money and bring another level of joy to your gardening experience. But knowing when and how to move these new seedlings outside can be a bit tricky, especially for a beginner or novice gardener.

The outdoor elements can be a bit intense for baby seedlings, and you want to make sure you’ve done everything you can to guarantee their success.

The good news for you is that I’ve walked this journey before and am going to detail all of the steps and information you need for a successful transplanting season. If you are wanting to grow your vegetables from seed, start here to read and learn the beginning steps: How to Start Seeds Indoors.

If your grow zone is about to reach its last frost date, then you will soon be ready to move your small plants outdoors! But, remember! Moving your seedlings outdoors cannot be rushed! Temperature fluctuations, full power sunlight, and wind can all be very traumatic for your seedlings and could kill them before they become mature plants.

How to Transfer Your Seedlings to Your Outdoor Vegetable Garden

Hardening And Preparing Seedlings For Outdoors

Once your indoor seedlings have 3-4 leaves growing, they tell you they are ready for a little bit of natural light. This first introduction to the sun is called hardening-off. This means gradually introducing them to the outdoor conditions.

You want to bring your new baby plants outside for only about an hour a day at the first and slowly increase that amount of time over a week or two. Start by placing your young seedlings in a shaded spot and slowly build up their time outdoors and in the sun.

This is the safest and best way to keep the seedlings from getting transplant shock when introduced to strong sunlight, cold or hot days, strong wind, cooler nighttime temperatures, and rain. In addition, this slow transition away from the indoor grow light will allow the young plants to grow firmer plant tissue and better handle their new outdoor home.

The Right Weather Conditions

Knowing when it’s time to move your seedlings outdoors depends a bit on what particular type of plants you are growing. Different plants like different conditions, so it’s worth googling the particular plant you are growing to see what type of weather it can handle and getting more information about any specific needs during the hardening process.

For example, plants like tomatoes and peppers really like it to be warm and can’t handle a frost very well. On the other hand, a vegetable like broccoli (a cool-season crop) is more durable and will be ok if left outside during a light frost.

A good rule of thumb with moving your seedlings outside is to wait until well after the risk of frost has passed. Be Patient. For example, I currently live in Milwaukee Wisconsin which is Zone 5A. We did not transplant our seedlings until May 16th. Our last frost date is from May 9-13th, but since we had some cooler evenings I did not want to risk putting my seedlings outside until a few days past recommended. The days between the last frost and first frost are your “growing season” for warm-season crops and you can look up your dates HERE. 

Preparing The Seedlings New Home

It’s almost time for the big move to the great outdoors. But first, we need to prep the young plant’s new environment.

  • The first thing to do is prep the soil where you plan on transplanting the new plant babies. Laying down a good fresh layer of soil mix sets a great foundation for your plants to thrive right from the get-go. You don’t want the soil to be compacted but fairly loose.
  • Think about the amount of sunlight your new location will get each day and how much sunlight the plant will need. Again, a good google search of the plant type will give you a ton of great information to set you up for success.

The Big Move to The Outdoors

It’s now time to finally move all those precious indoor seedlings to their forever home (until next year, of course, when you start this whole process over again).

It’s going to be best if you can plan this transition time on a cloudy day. This will give these tender plants a chance to settle in a bit without being exposed to full sunlight on day one. I like to check the weather forecast and make sure I have a great day to move my seedlings outdoors to be not rushed.

Make sure to space and place seedlings fairly far apart from each other. Remember, the plan is for big growth, and you don’t want the plants to be overcrowded once they reach maturity.

Once you’ve got the garden bed all set up and ready, you can start moving the seedlings into their new home. Once you’ve planted everyone, go ahead and water right away. This is a very important step as these new baby plants will be thirsty, and it will trigger them to start expanding their roots.

Common Problems With Moving Seedlings Outside

One of the most common problems people ask me about is fixing their weak and leggy seedlings. This basically means the seedlings are thin and pale, with small leaves. It can look like it can barely keep itself standing up. This can make for a hard transition to your new outdoor garden bed.

The most likely cause of legginess is an inconsistent or insufficient amount of light. This makes the seedlings want to grow straight up as it searches for more sunlight and doesn’t build up its core properly.

As I mentioned over here, your seedlings need about 12-14 hours of sunlight. This can be hard if you live in a cooler climate with many cloudy days in the early spring. Using a grow light will give you the most consistent light to best prepare your little plant babies to thrive.

Seedlings can also grow leggy and weak for a couple of other reasons, such as: 

  • Overcrowding in the seedlings tray.
  • Not watering properly. Make sure the soil is draining properly.
  • Overheating under the grow light. 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal.

Congratulations!

Good job if you were able to go through the entire process of seed to garden! This is a wonderful feeling knowing you went through all the steps yourself instead of buying from a garden nursery. I know it takes a lot of time, but by growing your vegetables from seeds, you will be able to make good use of your entire growing season!

Feel free to comment below if you have any other questions or just wish to let me know that you successfully went from seed to garden. I’d love to hear about your success story!

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