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Proctor's Garden: How to transplant seedlings

This is the time of year to use your experience, intuition and knowledge of your own conditions as you plant.

DENVER — It drives me nuts to see commercials where people pretending to garden pull plants out of their pots by the stems. This is wrong and can potentially damage the stems at the point where they connect with the roots. 

Instead, use gravity. Turn the pot upside down and let the plant slide out into your hands. You may need to do a bit of squeezing of the pot to loosen the roots from the pot. It's worth the effort. It's just common sense to cause as little trauma as possible when transplanting.

This is the time of year to use your experience, intuition and knowledge of your own conditions as you plant. You may have microclimates in your garden that are relatively warmer. My south-facing brick patio is like that. I feel relatively confident about the plants I've brought outside so far. No matter where you live, however, it's still too early to plant heat-loving ornamentals such as coleus, sweet potato vine, marigolds and impatiens, as well as vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans and squash. The nights aren't staying reliably above 50 degrees, nor has the soil warmed sufficiently. 

Conversely, it's almost too late to plant cool season plants, like pansies, unless you live in the foothills or mountains. They thrive only in cool weather and start to decline when temperatures soar into the 80s. Keep pansies fertilized and deadheaded to prevent them from wasting energy on producing seeds. 

Cool season vegetables that should be planted by now include lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, radish, beets, onions and potatoes. 

When you take succulents outside - which can be done at any time now - it's vitally important to put them in filtered shade to begin with. Otherwise, they will scald terribly in the sun. They may be disfigured for years. Let them acclimate to sunny conditions gradually.

If you grow annuals from seed, prick out the seedlings as they get big enough to transplant to individual pots. You can use a little fork or utensil. I just dump out the whole seed pan and tease the plants apart gently. Take care to handle these little plants by the root ball or leaves - not the stems - which are most vulnerable to damage. After transplanting, keep them in a sunny window for a few weeks and they'll be ready to go. 

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