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Last year, I tried to start most of my vegetable garden inside while it was still cool outside. This included peas, corn, peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, pumpkins, and zucchini.

Once it warmed up, I took them all outside and planted them. Within a few days almost all of them died, or got really unhealthy and didn't grow big or produce much.

Did I do something wrong, or is it better just to start the plants outside to begin with?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

According to "How to Grow More Vegetables" by John Jeavons, you can start almost all vegetables inside and transplant them. In my experience, this isn't necessarily true.

As @Om Patange mentions, corn, beans, and garlic are best planted straight in the ground. Potato, carrots, and parsnips (to pick some common vegetables) should also go straight in the ground.

I've had good luck transplanting the following:

  • broccoli
  • cabbage
  • turnips*
  • beets*
  • squash family: zucchini, pumpkin & winter squash**, summer squash, cucumber, watermelon**
  • tomato
  • pepperxxx
  • sunflowers
  • celery
  • spinach
  • lettuce
  • parsley
  • onions
  • leeks
  • kale
  • okraxxx
  • basil
  • radicchio

* I've had good luck transplanting these via soil blocks. They probably won't work when transplanted another way because of the root disturbance.

** These get big really fast. They have to go outside as soon as they germinate, or you need to start them in fairly large containers (or 4" blocks), and avoid disturbing roots when transplanting. All in all, it's probably easier to just direct seed outside.

xxx To the extent that I've had any success. They grow ok, but I never get much fruit. This isn't so much a function of transplanting, though.


Things to keep in mind when transplanting:

  • Avoid disturbing roots as much as possible. Some plants are more sensitive to disturbance than others. (Especially root veg: if you disturb the roots when planting, you may get deformed roots or they may just die.)
  • Soil blocks avoid root disturbance. If you're willing to make the investment in a block maker, it's a good way to get a head start on growing.
  • Don't transplant at noon on a bright, sunny day. The best time to transplant is in the morning on a calm, overcast day.
  • Harden off your seedlings for a week prior to transplanting. This lets them adjust from the comfortable, controlled environment indoors to the "wild west" of outdoor life.
  • Water carefully for the first week or so. Note that says carefully: overwatering is just as deadly as underwatering.
  • Avoid overfertilizing. If you transplant a seedling with fine roots onto a high nitrogen fertilizer, you can burn the roots. (You want fertile soil, because if you don't, they will fail to thrive. But in my experience, this shows up later in the season as weak or stunted plants and not immediate plant death.)
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I have found that some plants benefit from being started inside and others are hindered.

From my experience, these plants should be started inside to maximize the growing season (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • tomatoes: plant part of the stem under the ground, laying horizontally. This will allow the plants extra roots.
  • peppers
  • I am trying eggplants and asparagus this season

These plants should be planted straight in the ground:

  • corn
  • beans (so I imagine peas as well)
  • squash
  • garlic

Don't know about broccoli and zucchini.

In either case, make sure you have fertile soil, proper sunshine, and provide plenty of water after initial transplanting/planting. See this answer for amending the soil for transplanting tomatoes.

You should also harden the seedlings to the outside before planting. See this answer to get an idea (the question was specifically about tomatoes, but the answer applies well to other plants).

If you are still having a lot of trouble getting things to grow, consider buying already started seedlings from a nursery. I have found these have a much better chance of survival.

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+1 for coverage. –  J. Musser Apr 13 '12 at 2:14

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