More Tips from a Pro - Transplanting Native Seedlings

In this post, I'll just share the tips passed along to me by Denise Polk, horticulturist already known to readers of this blog - and in the following two posts (unless Town Mouse interleaves one of her interesting entries) I'll share my experience of transplanting the seedlings I've been growing. This is my first year propagating, and I'm really enjoying the experiences - especially the successful ones!

Bunch Grass Seedlings - Nassella lepida

“So I’ve got the native bunch grass from here, it’s not Nassella pulchra, purple needle grass [the state grass btw]– it’s Foothill Bunchgrass –Nassella lepida. Because I wasn’t very good at putting in the seeds, there’s quite a lot in each little plug. So do I just pull them out and split them up and transplant them?”

“You can do it that way or you can leave them as a group and they’ll figure out which one is the strongest one and which one will survive. But if you need every individual one then you can tease them out. Or you can just kind of pull them out and thin them out till there’s a few less in there if you’re concerned about it.”

“So I think if I put them right in the ground they’d probably take, but I’ve got a lot of bunnies. So I thought I might keep them in pots until the fall so - do I just put them in to a 4 inch pot?’

They tend to put down deep roots so if you can get something for a deeper root system it’ll be easier for you to grow them and the roots won’t get all tangled around. And they really use up a lot of water in containers.”

“I’ve got a lot of gallon pots.”

“That’ll be easier – Not that it’ll be easier for you to transplant them later on but it’ll certainly be a lot easier for you to hold them over a whole summer.”

“So I could put them in the ground right now do you think?”

“You’d have to protect them from the rabbits.”

“Yeah, there is that. So when I put them in these big pots, do I put them in the native soil? Or half and half?”

“You can do it either way. Some people like to have some of their native soil mixed in because they figure it’s easier to transplant them out into the yard. But when you buy stuff from the nurseries it’s not in the native soil and they survive just fine. Whatever we have available!”

The Zauschneria, Penstemons, And Etc

"All the other seedlings – I’ve got some but they’re little, just like one or two tiny leaves, the Zauschneria, Penstemons and such. So are they going to stay in the flats until the fall do you think?" (The Zauschneria were in plugs but I have others in flats.)

“No, no.”

“When they’re even little like this should I transplant them?”

“The first set of leaves that comes out are the cotyledons, the seed leaves. And then they’ll get what they call the true leaves. The general rule of thumb is to wait until you have true leaves before you transplant seedlings.

“Even just one pair of true leaves is enough?”

But it doesn’t apply to natives!

“Oh! Oh!”

Natives will put down a root so fast that if you wait till the true leaves are up you’re going to have too long a root system.

“Oh shoot!”

So I always transplant when I see the cotyledons come up at a decent size – I start transplanting right away.

“So when they’re only little tiny things?”

“You’d be surprised. They’ll survive. They put that root down before they put that top growth up.

“Well I hope I’m not too late!”

“You probably won’t be too late but you’ll probably have roots that are down in your pot or winding along the side or something like that. So you can definitely transplant those sooner rather than later.”

(Another tip Denise gave us propagators at that session was to bury a good bit of the seedling's stem in the soil - they grow stronger that way than leaving a long thin stem.)

“Good to know! And should I put them in 4 inch pots? Bigger pots?”

“Whatever you’ve got available.”

“Can I put three or four in one big pot?”

“You can but if you want to divide them later on it’ll be too hard, they’ll be all intermixed. It’s better to keep them separate now when they’re smaller.”

“So in the fall would you plant? Or would you wait even longer – Penstemons and Zauschneria and that”

“Well the general planting out time is Fall but some people, given the climate and their own watering regime, will plant out in spring and just pay a little attention to it."

--After getting this advice, I potted on a lot of Zauschneria, followed by a lot of Nassella lepida. Read on!


Gail said…
I don't know this California grass, but will check it out...where will you be planting it?
I am excited to see it in your garden...too bad the bad bunnies like it, too!

I had heard that native plants put a lot of energy into their root system...this is especially true for a lot of our TN natives..which have taproots.

This was very interesting and helpful~

queerbychoice said…
This is exactly what I needed to read today! I'm just attempting propagation for the first time too. Actually, I'm just attempting everything about gardening for the first time, over the past year.
Country Mouse said…
I look forward to reading of your adventures in propagation too, dear queerbychoice! And Gail - my next post talks about the type of grass and where it's going. The bunnies don't like it that much, but young plants are much more tasty than mature ones.
Thanks for reading!