Guide Producing transplants at home

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For Online Subscribers Current Issue. Dry, hot weather greatly increases water requirements while cool, cloudy conditions reduce water needs. As time for taking plants to the field nears, apply slightly less water to help harden-off transplants so they can better withstand the stress of transplanting. Never allow media to become completely dry, however. Adequate water is absolutely necessary for optimum growth of vegetable transplants.

Manage irrigation frequencies and durations carefully. If the media lacks sufficient moisture when the trays are first placed on the reservoir, overhead irri-gation may be required for the first irrigation to settle soil and adequately wet the mix. In continuous float systems, the media should "draw up" and hold sufficient moisture until the flats are removed from the reservoir. With intermittent float systems, trays should be floated until all the cells are moist. This usually takes about minutes.

Then withdraw the water until the next irrigation. Do not use float systems for seedless watermelon production. Overhead irrigation is used with the rail system. There are several ways to water from overhead.

Greenhouses for Seedlings

Most containerized transplants are irrigated with automated, mobile systems that have nozzled booms suspended over the flats Figure 5. The boom travels the length of the house during an irrigation cycle. Properly maintained automated systems save labor, apply water and fertilizer uniformly, and can double as a pesticide applicator.

For transplant production on a smaller scale, a stationary solid-set system with mist nozzles can be used.

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Stationary systems are fairly inexpensive and can be constructed relatively easily. Space nozzles precisely to maximize uniform distribution of water, fertilizer and pesticides. Hand watering is the most labor intensive and least uniform of all systems and is usually practical only when growing a relatively small number of transplants.

When watering by hand, water all cells uniformly. Non-uniform water distribution results in non-uniform growth. Although hand watering may seem less expensive at first, the additional labor costs and reduced transplant value due to poor uniformity make it more expensive than many realize.

Effective water management is crucial to the production of quality transplants.


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Irrigation systems must be well planned, adequately designed, correctly installed and properly maintained. Poor quality irrigation water can cause problems for greenhouse transplant growers. To prevent or mitigate water quality problems, test your water before you begin production. Maintain elements, soluble salts and alkalinity within desirable ranges Table 2. The cost of periodic water testing is insignificant compared to the cost of the problems it can help prevent. How often should testing be done? That depends on the frequency and severity of past problems.

If you have had water quality problems, test your water frequently until you are sure they have been solved. If you change water sources, test the new water source before you use it. Low or high pH water can change the media pH and affect fertilizer availability and nutrient uptake. In general, water with a pH of 5 to 7 is desirable. Depending upon the alkalinity level, water with a pH above 7 may cause problems, A high pH in combination with high alkalinity is more of a concern than a high pH in combination with a low alkalinity.

High levels of soluble salts can injure plants. Because salt impairs root function, affected plants may wilt, even when the soil is moist. Soluble salt concentrations are estimated by measuring the electrical conductivity EC. For more information on water quality and sampling, contact your county Extension office.

Container-grown plants are usually fertilized with soluble fertilizer, which has been dissolved in a stock solution Figures 6 and 7. This stock solution is metered into the irrigation lines and mixed with water during application. The application of fertilizer and water through the irrigation system is called fertigation. If a charged media contains fertilizer is used, fertigation is usually delayed one or two weeks.

Otherwise, begin fertigation when the first true leaf begins to develop.

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Growing Vegetable Transplants | NC State Extension Publications

During fertigation, apply nutrient solution until it runs out the bottoms of the flats. This ensures that all plants are adequately fertilized assuming the nutrient concentration is correct. In addition, this helps prevent salt injury by leaching residual fertilizer salts from the media. When growing transplants, keep in mind that the biggest plant is not always the best.

Basic Practices: Seedling Production and Transplanting

In fact, it could be the most undesirable. The fertilizer program must be effectively managed to grow stocky, sturdy, medium-green plants that transplant and grow well in the field. Consider your market when fertilizing. Some markets such as the retail bedding plant trade may desire larger, darker green transplants.