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Organic Gardening
Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.

Grow Food Not Grass


Spring is inching ever so close, and soon the sweet hum of lawnmowers will fill the air. A while back I read a study on the website that stated 40.5 billion American acres are devoted to residential lawns. According to this study residential lawn care is a 2.2 billion dollar industry. That got me thinking, where did this love affair come from to have the perfect green outdoor carpet? What good is a lawn really? What if every family devoted even a small portion of their lawn to growing food?

We decided that we wanted to cut out some of our own useless lawn, and grow something worth growing. Our side yard gets morning, and afternoon sun, and then is shaded by the house in the late afternoon when the sun is really hot. We felt it would be the perfect place to expand our organic food growing venture.

Since these new garden beds were going to be right in the middle of our yard we wanted them to be uniform, and attractive. We chose 10x20 foot beds since we wanted to still be able to weed, water, and plant without walking all over the produce that will be growing in them. The space between the beds is 4 feet, which is the perfect distance for our riding lawn mower. The edges can be maintained easily with a weed wacker.

The number one concern was the grass growing up through the beds. It was a possibility to lay cardboard down over the grass, and build up the compost from there, but we wanted straight borders, and did not want to wait a long time for the cardboard to break down. Using string and stakes we traced out the borders for each bed, and spray painted lines to follow when edging each one out. Using an edger, and some good old fashion hard work we etched out all the borders.

From there we rented a sod cutter, and removed all the sod from each bed. It only takes 1 inch of grass root to grow grass, so we lined the bottom of each bed with drop cloth paper. This is a plain brown paper that comes on a roll, and can be found for a few dollars in most hardware stores. Each 10x20 foot bed required 1 roll. Newspaper will do the same job, but it takes more time to lay out, and we found the roll easier to manage. As we laid out the drop cloth paper we soaked it with the hose to help it start to break down.

Each bed was then filled with horse manure compost. There are a few things to consider when choosing manure compost. The first is that most domestic horses are given wormacide. This can kill off the worms in compost, even though it is approved for organic farming. The second is that horses that are pasture fed eat a lot of weeds, and all of those weed seeds pass through the horse, and into their manure. When using cow or horse manure make sure that it has been hot composted, and turned regularly so that the outside is also exposed to the heat inside the compost pile. The heat will break down the wormacide, and tests have found that 99% of any trace of wormacide is gone within 28 days of being hot composted. The heat from a hot compost pile will also kill off the weed and grass seeds that may be present. The horse compost we chose had been hot composted, and turned over the course of 9 months.

We practice the no till gardening method so each fall we will layer the garden with new drop cloth paper, and top with fresh compost. The soil will get better with each passing year of layering rabbit, horse, and aged chicken compost. It is possible to grow good organic food on smaller lots as well. Lawns are pretty, but the ability to grow healthy food is priceless.

Melissa Souza lives on a 1-acre, organically managed homestead property in rural Washington State where she raises backyard chickens and meat rabbits and grows fruits, berries, and all the produce her family needs. She loves to inspire other families to save money, be together, and take steps toward self-reliance no matter where they live. Connect with her on Facebook.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Grow Flax For Linen In Your Garden

flax straw-spun-thread on spindle-A2-2016-BLOG

Growing flax to process into linen was a common activity on homesteads before the Industrial Revolution. In fact, a quarter acre per person might have been planted to take care of clothing and other textile needs for the year. When choosing a variety of flax to plant for linen, make sure the botanical name is Linum usitatissimum. The variety I’ve found to be available is Marilyn.

If you are just starting out and don’t know if you really want to get into this yet, you can get enough material to work with from just a small space in your garden. In that case, you may want to buy seed by the packet, if it is available. If you want to have enough to really play with, plant a pound of seeds. I bought seed through The Heirloom Seed Project at the Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Their one pound package of seeds indicates it is enough to plant 400 square feet. My main source of information about growing flax to linen has been the book Linen: From Flax Seed to Woven Cloth by Linda Heinrich. That book suggests that one pound of seed is enough to plant 300 square feet.

The time to plant is in the early spring, about the time you plant peas. Flax wants to get its start in the cool weather and will be ready to harvest in about 90-100 days. You will need to plant it in a sunny spot and provide an even distribution of moisture throughout its growing season if you do not have regular rainfall. Whether you plant the seeds in rows or broadcast them, the seeds need to be close together so the stalks will grow straight with no branching. You will get more and better fiber from thin stalks than from fat ones. Attention needs to be given to keep flax weeded, especially when it is young. Find more details about planting flax at Homeplace Earth.

When it gets closer to harvest time I will be posting again with what to do next. Although there are many steps in the journey to linen, other than harvesting at the right time, those steps can be done at your leisure. The flax straw will have to be retted, which is soaking it in water or, my favorite, laying it in the grass and letting the dew take care of it. The fiber will be separated from the straw when you break it, then it is further cleaned by scutching and hackling. It sounds daunting, but once you understand it and have worked a bit with it, it is not so intimidating.

flax equipment-BLOG-brake-hackles-scutching

Many museums and festivals have flax tools on display and may do demonstrations. The Landis Valley Farm Museum has a wonderful display in their textile barn. One place to see flax to linen in action is at the Stahlstown Flax Scutching Festival in Stahlstown, Pennsylvania. That festival will be held September 16-17 this year, the same time as the Mother Earth News Fair in nearby Seven Springs. I am thrilled that we can see the flax to linen process at historical demonstrations, but we need to take it out of the museums and make it part of our lives. We can make the necessary tools ourselves and, once again, wear clothes that have come from our own land and our own hands.

Cindy Conner is the author of Seed Libraries and Grow a Sustainable Diet and has produced DVDs about garden planning and managing cover crops with hand tools. Learn more about what she is up to at Homeplace Earth.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Soil for Raised Garden Beds: What Do You Need to Know?

DSCN0180 - CopyPeople who buy our Durable GreenBed raised garden bed kits often ask what type of soil they should use to fill their new beds. Here’s the advice we typically share. Once you’ve considered that, read on for some bonus tips we share with customers on how to decrease the amount of soil you need and keep your garden soil healthy.

What type of soil works best for raised beds?

In situ soil

The best and greenest soil for your raised beds is soil that comes from your property. There’s no need to transport soil onsite (or in situ, in Latin) in a car or plastic bag. And if you’re already gardening organically, you know your soil is free from pesticides, herbicides and other contaminants.

However, we realize this isn’t possible for everyone. People often purchase raised beds because their soil is so poor they can’t grow in it. If you’re concerned about using your own soil, there are a few things you can do to determine whether it will work in your raised beds.

The first is to determine what type of soil you have. There are two ways you can research your soil type at home. One option is to wet down the soil, let it dry slightly, then try to form it into a ball (as described in this video). Clay soil will easily take on a round form; sandy soil will crumble in your hand. If you get a result somewhere in between, you have loam.

You can also put some soil into a jar with a small amount of detergent, shake it well, and leave it overnight. The way it settles will tell you whether you have sand, loam or clay soil. Get more details on how to perform this test here.

The other thing to consider is testing your soil for minerals and nutrients. The most accurate results will come from a soil testing company. If you decide to get your soil tested by a professional, this video from the University of Maryland Home & Garden Information Center explains the best way to collect a sample. 

If you don’t want to shell out the money for a professional soil tests (they can be expensive), buy a home testing kit. They aren’t nearly as accurate, and will only provide information about a limited number of soil nutrients. But they can be a good place to start if you suspect your soil is nutrient-deficient. Look for soil test kits at hardware stores.

Your soil plus compost

If your soil is decent but could use a boost, add compost. You can mix soil with up to 50 percent compost and get great results from your raised beds.

Keep in mind that compost isn’t fertilizer. You’ll still need to fertilize flowers, vegetables and fruits as needed throughout the year. But compost is always a good addition to your raised garden beds. Plan to invest in some of it no matter where your soil comes from (more on that below).

Purchased soil

Another soil option for raised garden beds is purchased soil. The best place to get it is a reputable garden center, landscape supply store or hardware store. Sometimes people will post fill dirt to Craig’s List or other sites. There’s no good way of determining whether this dirt is “clean” or not, so buying it can be a risk, especially if you’re an organic gardener.

A better option might be to reach out to people you know and see if they have fill dirt they’re willing to share with you. The added bonus is that the price tag for your soil may go from high to free.

How to decrease the amount of soil you need for raised beds

Another question we get is how much soil it takes to fill raised garden beds. The best way to determine that is to use a soil calculator like this one from Gardener’s Supply Company. But here’s a great suggestion to decrease the amount of dirt you need to dig up or buy for your raised beds.

Put straw bales into the base of each garden bed after it’s assembled. Add a high-nitrogen fertilizer to the bales and soak them with water. That will heat them up and super-charge the composting process that will naturally occur. Leave the bales for three weeks, then add soil to fill the bed. Over time the straw will break down and contribute to the fertility of your raised garden bed.

Maintaining soil health in raised beds

Putting healthy, high-quality soil in a raised garden bed is one thing. Keeping that soil healthy is another. Here are some tips for maintaining the health of the soil in your raised garden beds.

Grow a cover crop

Fava beans, crimson clover, peas and similar types of cover crops (sometimes called “green manure”) fix nitrogen in the soil and draw nutrients up where plant roots can access them. The cover crop can also be folded down into the soil prior to planting, which provides rich organic matter. Cover crops are planted in the fall and removed in the spring. The Cornell University Extension Service has a great guide to using cover crops.

Cover your raised bed during the winter

Another benefit of cover crops is that they keep rain from falling on soil and compacting it. If you decide not to use a cover crop, it’s worth covering beds with something else to keep the rain off. Leaves, straw, cloches or plastic can all work.

Add compost

Compost adds to soil porosity, provides a gradual release of nutrients, brings beneficial microorganisms and helps keep soil pH neutral. Add it once a year to increase soil quality. One notable difference between compost and fertilizer is that compost has a cumulative effect. Compost continually “builds” soil health, which ensures your raised garden beds will be a great place to grow for years to come.

Our Low-Cost DIY Rain Barrel Aquaponics System

There's always something new to experiment with as homesteaders, especially when it comes to one particular tool that we always seem to have excess of: rain barrels. Our Appalachian homestead runs entirely on rain water, so these rain barrels are invaluable to us, but sometimes we still have far more than we need. A few weeks ago, my husband found an innovative way to use two of them; by creating an eco friendly, self sustaining aquaponics system that fits right in our home, and with any luck, will soon be producing vibrant greens and tasty tilapia for us to snack on all year long. 

For less than the cost of a regular fish tank, we know get to raise our own fish and greens for a miniscule amount of fossil fuels. It's an exciting step for us towards self sufficiency, and we want to share our methods with you, too.

In the past year, we've experimented with many different forms livestock and home-based butchering. We've successfully mastered raising, breeding and butchering our own  meat rabbits and even raised our first pig in a pallet-constructed pig pen before butchering him on our property over the holidays, but starting an aquaponics system was decidedly more tech-involved. Nonetheless, we think it was well worth the effort and should benefit our homestead for years to come.

What is Aquaponics?

By definition, an aquaponics system is a blend of aquaculture (the cultivation of fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in water instead of soil). The benefit of combining these two ideas is that plants and fish actually help each other thrive. Fish poop and uneaten food scraps infuse the water with nutrients, which act as a natural fertilizer for the plants growing above. In the same way, the work of the pump in the system aerates the water for the fish, keeping them healthy. It’s a closed loop system where waste is constantly recirculated for the benefit of all organisms.

There are plenty of professional aquaponics systems on the market today, but none can come as cheaply as our simple rain barrel model. Best of all, our system has a capacity of over twenty full grown tilapia, ensuring that it's well worth the space it takes up in the pantry.

How To Build Your Own Rain Barrel Aquaponics System

The first part of any homestead projecting is gather up the tools and supplies you need (or pilfering them from other projects like we did with our rabbit lawn mower). In order to make this project you will need the following supplies:

- Two food grade 55 gallon barrels, one whole,  one with at least 12" of bottom intact
- 1/4" by (1/2" long)Stainless steel carriage bolts
- Stainless steel washers and nuts
- Piece of plexiglass (if you want a peep hole)
- Aquarium safe silicon
- Small aquarium or pond pump
- PVC scrap
- Two 1/2" PVC male adapters and two female adapters
- A working bell siphon and ½” ball valve

Steps for Success

1. First, remove the top from one of your barrels in order to create a twelve inch grow space for your plants on top of the aquaponics system. In the second barrel, cut out two squares in the top third to serve as access points to get at your fish. A drill and jig saw work best for this step.

2. Next, cut out the plexiglass by marking the shape you want and putting masking tape on the bottom of the glass where you plan to make the cuts, in order to prevent the plastic from fusing back together after it gets cut.

3. Once you have your plexiglass, mark out where the bolt holes will go (about 2” apart) with a sharpie and drill out the holes. (Apply as little pressure as possible to the plexiglass). Heat the plexiglass in the low heated oven for about five minutes in order to make it easy to bend, and place it inside your newly cut barrel, leaving it in place for ten minutes.

4. Now, using the plexiglass as a guide, drill the middle holes on the window and insert bolts from the inside out, adding a washer and nut in the process. Continue drilling from the middle out, securing the bolts as you go.

5. Once the bolts are in place, seal them with a bead of silicon to make the system watertight. Make sure each bolt is finger tight before going over them all with a wrench as well. The tighter you can get each bolt the more water tight your barrel will be, so take your time!

6. To form the grow bed, take the bottom of your second barrel and cut two holes in the bottom, one in the middle (the drain) and one closer to the side (to feed the pump). Tap each hole with a 3/4” tap, and thread in the male adapter from the top, adding the female adapter to the underside.

7. Set up the bell siphon, media guard, and inlet pipe in the middle hole of the bed, and attach the pump to the underside so that it pumps water from the bottom barrel to the grow bed before draining out the middle.

8. Fill the grow bed with gravel or expanded clay, start your plants and add some fish to the base. Your system is ready to go.

Note: the original instructions we followed can be found at

We couldn't be happier with how well our rain barrel aquaponics system turned out, and look forward to it lowering our food footprint for years to come. If you choose to make an rain barrel aquaponics system of your own, please contact me about your experience, because I'd love to hear about it!

Lydia Noyes is an Appalachian homesteader and full time freelance writer whose writing on natural living and sustainability can be found all over the web, including her posts for MOTHER EARTH NEWS here. You can connect with Lydia at her personal blog and on Instagram.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Move Over Spinach, Native Miner’s Lettuce is Here


A recent day off found me wandering the oak woodlands of the east side of Mount Diablo in the rain. As I forged into Mitchell Canyon, I stopped to admire the rolling clouds upon the ridge. I then looked down to find myself standing in an ankle-deep patch of Claytonia perfoliata, otherwise known in these parts of Northern California as Miner’s Lettuce.

As I chewed a leaf of this mildly sour edible native plant, I was reminded of the richness of spinach. Later on, as I drove home through the hypnotic driving rain, I was reminded that this appreciation and renewed focus on Claytonia perfoliata, had occurred in, of all places, Clayton, Calif.

“Ah,” I mused, “now the township’s name makes all the more sense.”

Here in Northern California, I hear both clients and farmers alike complain about the “fussiness” of growing spinach. Though a prized edible green, it is a finicky performer which can often lead to marginal results and under-productive garden real estate. Move over spinach, because an old favorite is back in town, for now is the time to seed and grow Miner’s lettuce.

Seeded in the cool, wet season, Miners Lettuce will grow gangbusters. Seeding it directly in a patch, it can grow bio-intensively, meaning that the growing margins can touch one another without causing sickness. Conversely, it has been a rare patch of spinach that has grown well wall to wall in a seeded area.

Miners Lettuce, like spinach, can be eaten raw or steamed or stir fried.  Try out this delicious native plant this wet season and see if that stubborn old spinach has to move over to this bio-regional treat, Claytonia perfoliata.

Want to see it in full splendor? Go to Mitchell Canyon State Park, located on the east side of Mount Diablo, outside the town of Clayton.

Order bulk organic claytonia seed from High Mowing Seeds.

Joshua Burman Thayer is a landscape designer and permaculture consultant with Native Sun Gardens. He is the Urban Agriculture Supervisor for Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation in San Francisco, Calif. Find him at Native Sun Gardens and read his other MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Grow Your Own Miniature Fruit Trees

miniature lemon tree

When I wrote of choosing fruit trees for you home here, I didn’t mention the miniature fruit trees because they can’t survive temperatures below freezing. However, being able to harvest lemons, oranges, limes or even bananas is so much fun that you’ll be pleased to know it’s possible to grow citrus trees of your own, no matter where you live.

Although Ohio is hardiness zone six, I have had the pleasure and health benefits of having full-sized lemons for the past decade. It’s true that our potted lemon tree has to be drug into the sunroom to protect it from frost, but the annual harvest of two to three dozen organic lemons makes it worth the bother.

What makes a tree “miniature?” The “extreme dwarf” size of miniature fruit trees is mainly obtained from their rootstock. Even with this rootstock, most miniature fruit trees could reach eight to ten feet tall, but are kept at a more manageable height of about three feet. This is easily done with our miniature lemon tree because it’s kept in a container and is occasionally pruned. Therefore, the factors determining a miniature fruit tree’s size is its rootstock, pruning and being contained.

How to keep miniature citrus trees safe in colder climates: Most miniature citrus trees thrive in hardiness zones of nine to ten. In Ohio, bringing these trees indoors before reaching freezing temperatures is essential. We joke that it’s easy to prune a miniature tree—just make sure it can fit in the door! Look here for more on “how to prune.” Fortunately, very little pruning is needed when the tree’s roots are contained.

How to keep a miniature fruit tree productive: Having great harvests from miniature fruit trees requires both healthy soil and good pollination.

Healthy soil for potted plants is difficult to maintain with commercial fertilizers. Instead, use compost tea. (See here for how to make your own). Its natural microbes and sugars can never be over-done. I believe our ten year-old lemon tree is thriving and productive because it has been nurtured with compost tea.

This same miniature lemon tree has never been repotted from its original 14” container. If it seemed not be thriving in the future, I would probably prune back the roots and replant it in the same pot rather than a larger container. In this way, I can keep this miniature fruit tree small enough to come into the sunroom in winter.

It would be most convenient to have a self-pollinating miniature fruit tree (and most are), but I’m afraid our little lemon tree needs help with pollination. It usually begins blooming in cold February so I do my best to pollinate each flower’s pistil with a little paint brush. My efforts are far inferior to the bees, however, so we carry the tree back outside on warm days when it’s in bloom. With the bees and my pollinating efforts, we have always had as many lemons as the little tree can support before harvest time in November.

How to preserve citrus fruit: If I had orange, tangerine, lime or banana miniature fruit trees, I would probably savor each fruit as it became ripe. The lemons all become ripe within a couple weeks’ span, however, and I really want to enjoy them year-round. To do this, I use the Moroccan method of preserving lemons.

 Preserving Lemons

In Morocco, lemons aren’t refrigerated or dried, but instead preserved with salt. I find this method easy to do and that it results in favorable and nutritious lemons for cooked meals.

Preserved/Salted Lemons


Containers (I use two-quart canning jars, but any container not eroded by salt will work)
Lemons (picked when fully-ripe)
Sea-salt (use instead of table salt for improved nutrition and taste)

Preparing Moroccan-style Preserved Lemons

1. Cut each lemon into quadrants, almost all the way through. Hold the lemon sections open while sprinkling a generous amount of sea-salt onto all on cut sides of lemon. It’s better to error on the side of “too much” sea-salt because too little salt can result in spoilage.

2. Close each salted lemon and squeeze it into the container tightly with other lemons. No need to refrigerate.

3. I begin to use these lemons almost immediately and continue to use them throughout the year. They gradually become softer and produce more of the wonderful lemony-salty juice—perfect for how I cook with them!

Recipes with Moroccan-Preserved Lemons

Our winter meals are made from garden produce that is preserved in the root-cellar or by canning or freezing. One of my favorite meals is slowly roasted vegetables. After coating the cut-up vegetables with olive oil and sea-salt, I simply put them in the cast-iron pot and let them cook slowly on the wood-burner. Their taste is amazing, but what makes them greater still is adding chopped up preserved lemons with some of its juice. The lemon’s peel is included—it has no chemicals and is packed with vitamins. For this purpose, the “Meyer Lemon,” sold by StarkBros, is noted for its “thin-skinned lemons.” Delicious!

Another winter favorite is chicken-vegetable soup—the usual third meal from one of our small Dorking chickens. It was always flavor filled, but adding the lemon texture and lemony-salt flavor makes it outstanding.

Because miniature fruit trees only require some patio space in summer and a sunny indoor corner in winter, I hope you’ll also be able to have a miniature fruit tree. It’s a new adventure that can add both healthy food and fun to life!

Mary Lou Shaw and her husband grow most of their own food on their homestead with a large garden, orchard, bees, and rare-breed animals. These animals include Dutch Belted cows, Dorking chickens and Narragansett turkeys. Learn how to grow your own food with Mary Lou’s book, Growing Local Food, through Carlisle Press at 800-852-4482. Read all of Mary Lou’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Transplanting Seedlings: How to do it Correctly

Growing plants from seeds can be difficult, especially if the plant is out of season. There are variables to consider and the first few weeks are the most fragile. Some plants are so sensitive that the only way to successfully grow them in unfamiliar climates is through transplanting.

Transplanting is the technique of moving a plant from one growing medium to another. It allows gardeners to start a plant from a seed, which is sensitive to the environment and fragile, in optimal conditions before transferring it to a more permanent location in the garden. Transplanting can extend the plant’s growing season and can protect young and delicate plants, all while avoiding the harsh, outside weather. When done successfully, transplanting is a great way to grow new plants, extend their season, and experience the joys of gardening indoors and outdoors. However, it can come with a cost.

Simply put, plants aren’t meant to be moved--that’s why roots run deep and steel themselves in the earth. Moving plants from one area to another may incite transplant shock, which can kill the plant. To avoid this, plants need to be treated carefully and adjusted gradually to their surrounding environment.

Seeds and Seedlings

Before transplanting, you need to consider plant durability and strength. Plant the seed in the center of a flower pot big enough to support that specific plant. Be sure to use a flower pot with good drainage and a soil with high nutrient content (most compost and peat moss enriched soils or seed starting soil mixes found at home improvement stores should suffice). Seeds have different germination times, which can easily be identified from the back of the seed package or online. Allow the seed to grow indoors with frequent water and moderate amounts of direct sunlight or larger amounts of indirect sunlight. In roughly six weeks the seed will have transformed into a seedling; almost ready for transplanting.

If you don’t have pots to begin seed germination, paper based egg crates are a great alternative. Simply fill the empty crate slots with a soil mix (mentioned above) and place ~2 seeds in each slot (just in case one doesn’t germinate). Depending upon the seed type you’ll either plant it deeper or more shallow into the soil. One of the most popular plants to grow in the U.S., tomatoes, should be plant roughly 1/4 of an inch under the soil. The beauty of the paper egg crate is that when transplanting time comes, you simply tear each slot off with the plant, place it in your soil, and the paper composts into the soil. More on that later though.

Knowing when is the right time to transplant a plant doesn’t depend on size, as each variety of seedling is unique in size and shape. Instead, look at the amount of true leaves on the seedling. The first leaves a seedling sprouts are called cotyledons, which provide stored food to the young and emerging plant. As it becomes stronger, the “true leaves” will emerge and begin generating energy through photosynthesis. These are almost always darker and bigger than the cotyledons. Once there are three to four true leaves present, the plant is ready to be transplanted to the outdoors.

Hardening Off

The most important part of the transplanting process is hardening off. This is the part when you allow the young plant to gradually adjust to outdoor conditions. Hardening off usually occurs over a week to two week period, as sudden shifts of environment will cause plant shock and possible deterioration. When a plant is hardening off, its appearance may not change, but the cellular structure of its stems and leaves will adjust so that the plant can survive in a new environment.

To begin this process, start by leaving the young plants outside for small periods of time. Begin with an hour, and then steadily increase the amount of time you leave the plant outside daily over the course of the next one to two weeks. By the end of the hardening period, the plant should spend the majority of its day outside in its new environment. If there are no signs or symptoms of shock, such as pale and sunburned leaves, the plant is ready to make the transition to the garden.

Garden Preparation

While the plant is in the hardening off process, you can prepare the seedling’s new residence. Mix compost and fertilizer into the soil so that it is fresh and full of nutrients the new plant will crave. This is called “energizing” the soil, and it helps with the transplanting transition. Scientists strongly believe that plants resist disease and become stronger when they have healthy relationships with the rhizosphere. The rhizosphere is the space where roots and soil come together in a symbiotic bond. A nutrient filled rhizosphere is the lynchpin to a healthy plant.

Before you begin the formal transplanting process, you’ll need confirm that the soil temperature is within the plant’s preferred range. Cold soil does not make for optimal growing conditions. Also, check the weather and avoid transplanting if there is a heat wave. Heat can overwhelm the plant and cause shock, so wait for a few cloudy and moist days.


It is time to move the plant from its protected and stable home to the wilds of a garden. It has grown, been hardened, and the soil is ready.

Instead of pulling the plant out of the flowerpot and stressing it, push it out by loosening the soil and gradually pushing on the bottom of the pot (if the pot is plastic and moveable). This is the gentlest way to remove a plant from its home, and helps ease the transition. Always avoid touching the main stem. It has been acclimating to a new environment for the past week and considered fragile. Instead use the lowest leaves to transfer it into its new home. If they break off, it’s okay; it’s better than if the stem breaks. If using the paper egg crate as mentioned earlier, gently tear each egg slot away from the crate (at this point the paper should be fairly soft due to watering) while keeping the seedling intact, bring it over to your garden and gently tear the sides of the paper so roots can more easily grow through after setting the seedling and newly torn egg slot into the garden hole you’ve dug for it.

Once set in the garden hole, pack the nutrient rich soil around your transplant as much as possible. Now that it has successfully been moved, drench the soil surrounding the plant with water - be cognizant not to wash the soil away from the plant. This reacts with water-soluble nutrients and the roots will reach out to grow in their new environment. If there is any worry about transplant shock occurring, try covering the plants from long hours of direct sunlight or to retain soil warmth. Cover the plant intermittently over a 4 day period, furthering the gradual transition process and minimizing the possibility of shock.

Transplant Shock

Transplant shock happens most often because of damage a plant sustains during the transplant process. If a plant’s roots or stem are harmed, the plant will lose nutrients and go into shock. Seedlings are delicate and in a critical time of growth, so this is why you have to be careful when transplanting them and make sure they’re hearty enough to survive the move.

Some symptoms of shock to look out for include reduced vigor (small, less vibrant structure), and curled, rolled or yellowing leaves. If you notice your transplanted plant is in shock, make sure to keep the plant’s soil moist and keep its exposure to direct sunlight to a minimum in order to minimize further damage. Eventually the seedling will return to health and soon become a strong plant, capable of living in its new environment.

Transplanting is a delicate process, but offers so many benefits to the gardening enthusiast. Remember to follow these simple steps: allow the seedling to grow indoors until true leaves appear, allow the seedling to harden over time, prepare the garden, transplant carefully, and watch for transplant shock symptoms for the first few days. Do those things and your plants will flourish long after the transplanting process is over. 

Bryan Traficante is one of the co-founders of, where his family and he have one mission: making it easier for you build and grow great garden. They’re the inventors of the Garden Grid watering system, crafters of modular garden beds, and share time saving gardening advice on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and their video series, aptly named Easy Growing.

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