Western Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education
(SARE) Farm Internship Curriculum and Handbook


Published 2007
Updated 2010



The learner will:

  • Gain a solid understanding of proper transplanting techniques, and in doing so create the best environment for transplanted starts to thrive.


Why are Certain Crops Transplanted?

  • Greenhouse advantage
    • Greater climate control
    • Greater season extension
    • Intensive rather than extensive management of seedlings
    • Rapid crop successions
  • Root nature of transplanted crops
  • May allow for greater control over specific density of crops


Assess Plant, Soil, and Environmental Conditions Prior to Transplanting

Assess the compatibility of the following environmental conditions and seedling maturity with the planned tasks.

  • Seedling development necessary for successful transplanting
    • Shoot development
    • Root development
  • Seedling pre-treatments necessary for successful transplanting
    • Soil/mix moisture
      • Cell-grown seedlings at field capacity
      • Flat-grown seedlings at 50%-75% of field capacity
  • Transition from Greenhouse to Field
    • Hardening-off period: Hardening off reduces amount of stress for start by gradually increasing amount of exposure to outside elements. Hardening off should start at least 15 days prior to acceptable field transplant date.
      • Move starts to cold frame two weeks before they are ready to enter the field, cover off in the day and on at night
      • Leave the starts exposed to the elements for a half hour to an hour longer each consecutive day.
      • Finally, leave them exposed all day and all night the final three days.
  • Soil conditions favorable for successful transplanting
  • Optimal physical environmental conditions favorable for successful transplanting of flat-grown seedlings
    • Low light levels
    • Low temperature
    • Low wind speed
    • High humidity


Transplanting Starts

  • Starts should be thoroughly watered before being transplanted. This greatly reduces shock. Using a weak fish emulsion solution just prior to transplant will also encourage plants to take off quickly.
  • Keep starts in shaded area until they enter the ground.
  • When pulling apart individual soil blocks or removing starts from trays, carefully separate the intertwined root growth, causing as little trauma as possible, while still remaining efficient.
  • Do not expose tender root systems to direct sunlight (as little as fifteen seconds of exposure can kill off roots).
  • Using your hand or a planting tool create the right depth and size hole in the bed or row being planted.
  • Some farmers will sprinkle a little organic fertilizer in the hole just prior to planting. This should be done only if the quality of the soil requires that extra boost.
  • Gently tease the roots before planting the start; this encourages new outward growth of the roots.
  • Take special care to insure the top of the soil block or cell being planted is covered with native field soil; this greatly reduces the natural drying out process during the beginning of the plants field life.
  • Some farmers apply a gentle amount of pressure to the base of transplants after planting; others allow the natural “watering-in” process to settle the soil around the new transplant. What works for one may not work for another, and much of that has to do with the style of irrigation being used. An overhead irrigation system is going settle the soil around the plant much better than a drip system. Using our drip system at Boones Farm we’ve found applying a gentle amount of pressure encourages the pooling of water around the base of the start.
  • Always water in a new start. This is the highest preventative measure you can take against shock.
  • The best time to transplant any start is in the cool of the evening. This allows the plant a nice buffer to become acquainted with its new surroundings before dealing with a hot sun.


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