Healthy transplants are key for a successful garden

Diseases in the garden can sometimes be avoided if gardeners follow these tips from MSU Extension.

Backyard vegetable gardens plagued by mildew, leaf spots and wilting can sometimes be avoided by purchasing healthy transplants. Although some popular vegetables can be planted as seeds after the danger of frost, many should be transplanted due to our state’s shorter outside growing season. Two commonly transplanted vegetables in Michigan are tomatoes and peppers. Using the best transplants generally provides reliable plant establishment, reduces pest problems and decreases the time until you reap a bountiful garden harvest.

Michigan State University Extension recommends purchasing transplants from an established greenhouse or grower that has been in business selling transplants for many years. This practice makes it more likely that you will purchase a quality product. If you are in west Michigan, you can find locally-owned garden centers in your community from the website My Favorite Garden Shops.

Some plant diseases can be avoided by purchasing disease resistant varieties. Resistant varieties are noted by a letter code (sometimes a series of letters) on the plant tag in the pot or cell pack. For example, “VF” means that the variety is resistant to Verticillium and Fusarium wilts. (Both are hard-to-control diseases. Varietal resistance provides the best means of disease management.) “PM” means that the variety is resistant to or tolerant of powdery mildew. Visit Michigan Fresh and click on the “Healthy Transplants” fact sheet, written by Extension educator and State Master Gardener Coordinator Mary Wilson, under the “Gardening” tab. The fact sheet contains a chart listing some of the most commonly used codes. 

MSU Extension also recommends closely examining plants and selecting sturdy, stout plants with deep green or appropriately colored leaves. Avoid plants with leaves that are dropping, wilted, curled or spotted, or that have holes or brown leaf edges. Be sure to check the underside as well as the top side of the leaves. Also, lightly brush over the plants with your hands. If a cloud of white, fly-like insects appears, do not purchase the plants.

Customers should check the stems for lesions or discoloration that indicates the presence of a disease. If you are purchasing a significant number of plants, you should pull a few transplants from their containers and inspect the root system. Avoid those that have a tangle of roots encircling the root ball. These pot-bound plants are especially prevalent late in the season. Make sure that the roots are white and fibrous—avoid plants with brown or black roots. 

Did you know that you can help your transplants adjust to your garden by removing their flowers? Its true! Simply remove the flowers when you plant them into the garden. It may be difficult to remove the beautiful flowers you’ve waited all winter for, but a little sacrifice now will increase flowering (and fruiting) throughout the season.

MSU Extension’s toll free Lawn and Garden Hotline at (888) 678-3464 is available Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. to answer your lawn and garden questions. Be sure to check out the Michigan Fresh fact sheets with recipes, gardening tips, and preservation techniques for over eighty Michigan grown foods available for free from Michigan Fresh.

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