Keeping seedlings healthy between nursery and field

June 30, 2010

Caring for your seedlings pays dividends. A lot of work goes into ensuring they are strong and healthy and have the best chance of survival when planted out. Here are some handy tips from your nurseryman on how to treat your seedlings for best results.

Healthy and unhealthy seedlings

  • Plan your planting programme well in advance.
  • Take seedlings on time, thus avoiding seedlings that are too tall, or have become root bound.
  • Ensure that your seedlings are properly watered before dispatch from the Nursery.
  • Protect seedlings from excessive wind and sun when transporting.
  • Load trays carefully, avoiding damage to the seedlings. If possible, ask your seedling nursery to include transport in an order.
  • Store seedlings in a cool, light, well ventilated area (avoid placing seedlings under a tree). Avoid direct sunlight. Should you receive seedlings in plastic sleeves, roll the sides down to seedling level immediately to provide good aeration.
  • Handle seedlings in sleeves, lug boxes or trays gently, thus avoiding the plugs losing their growing medium, especially when taking seedlings in sleeves.
  • Check seedlings daily and water gently with a watering can if necessary. Avoid frequent watering, which promotes fungal diseases. When watering, water early in the day and ensure the plug is watered thoroughly by inspecting the root plugs of random plants.
  • Transplant seedlings as soon as possible!
    Preferably transplant seedlings during the cooler hours of the day.
  • Water before and after transplanting, or plant following good rains. Alternatively, plant the seedlings with a super absorbent.
  • When transplanting, hold the seedling by the leaves and not the stem.
  • When transplanting, do not lie seedlings down on the ground far ahead of planters as the plugs dry out quickly and roots can be damaged.
  • Do not bend the tap root (or plant too deep) and compact the soil around the plug gently from the sides.
  • Plant seedlings straight up and strive to maintain the plug shape even after transplanting.
  • Good pit preparation is critical. Avoid clods.
  • Seedling plugs must not come into direct contact with concentrated fertilisers as the roots can be burnt.
  • Rather apply the fertiliser 15 cm from the stem.
  • Guard against cutworm after transplanting – they appear at night. Cutworm bait can be used to combat the problem.
  • If seedlings are taken in trays and are to be kept for more than a day, ensure that the trays are raised off the ground so as to prevent root penetration into the soil which will cause subsequent damage to the seedlings when they are lifted.
  • Do not go to the pub and leave your seedlings on the back of your van.

Published in June 2010

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