Thursday, April 18, 2019

Protecting Transplants

Do you have to protect you transplants?  

A few years ago we moved out into the country and I was so excited by the chance to have things like chickens for the first time.  It was also eye opening to try and garden for the first time in the country.  Its open country generally, there is more pressure from birds and other animals at times, and then there is the wind. 

Here in Eastern Oregon, wind in the spring can be a bit of an issue for plants.  When you head down to the local hardware store or big box store and bring home some transplants, they may be in for a bit of a shock.  These plants have generally been greenhouse raised, transported in trucks, and staged in a garden center somewhere that is semi protected.  They get a gentle rain every day from the end of a hose and go about their merry way.  But then you drop them in your garden, and a gusty spring storm blows through and it can be enough to really stress your plants out and slow them down in their attempt to get established.  Driving rain and potential hail storms make things even worse, not to mention potential critter and insect pressure.   

When we settled in the country all around us the gardeners were using a trick that I didn't understand, and so finally, I had to ask.  

Dotted throughout their gardens were large #10 tin cans, tops and bottoms removed, with a small transplant nestled inside.  While I observed this, I struggled with what was happening.  They weren't covered with clear plastic or anything, so it wasn't like a hot cap or mini greenhouse type deal.  The tin would likely get pretty cold in the evening, so heat retention wasn't the deal.  Finally I had to ask and the casual, country response was, the wind.

You see, those cans were doing nothing more than protecting the plants from the brutal, drying effect of the wind in the open country air.  With no houses or buildings, no high wood or vinyl fences, no protection really what so ever, the wind can really dry out plants who haven't had a chance to get their roots deep enough into the ground to keep enough water in their leaves.  Furthermore, they haven't had time to strengthen their stems and stalks to deal with the harsh realities of their new homes.  They need a shield, which is exactly what the can offers.

Over the years I have used cans for this purpose I have discovered a few other added benefits.  Perhaps the real secret behind their success is that they address more than just the wind.  Here are a couple other benefits I think they offer.
  • Concentrate watering efforts.  The can does a good job of shading the soil around the plant, and keeping spring watering efforts close to the root zone of the transplants.  Between the wind protection and the shade, the water you apply last longer, right where the growing roots need it most.  I have often observed the soil in the can is still damp, while the soil around it has dried from those spring winds. 
  • Supporting growing plants is another benefit.  Some transplants, like larger lettuce for example, has very floppy leaves.  The trials of spring can often leave these large leaves laid over on the ground after hard rains or windy days. (See the photos above)  The walls of the can act as a sort of support, keeping the leaves up off the soil and allowing the plant to grow upright.  
  • Insect and animal protection are potential added benefits as well.  I have a hard time believing that rabbits and deer are going to stick their nose into an old tin can as readily as they might take a bite out of something freestanding.  Its just a theory, but I think it sounds good. 
  • Focused fertilization is our final thought.  If you are inclined to give your plants a light feeding or two as they start out, then the can, much like the water efforts describe above, concentrates the fertilizer around the root zone where the plant can actually get to it.  Adding a bit of compost tea, or maybe some dilute fish emulsion could give your plants the kick start they might need to get off to a great start. 

These are just a few of the reason why I have come to love the wind shields in my garden.  I have a number of cans and use them over and over throughout the season.  They give the new plants the protection they need to get off to a great start.  If you think it might help your garden, give it a try this season.  You just might find like me, that the benefits go far beyond just shielding your plants from bitter spring breezes.

If you are into this sort of thing, there is more information throughout the posts on this blog. We also have some info over at our website which you can view here. There is loads of information about gardening, a whole section on animals and composting, and even some ideas about home remodeling!  Come check it out.  We'll keep posting here on the blog, and do our best to continue to add more content to the website as well.

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