So you’ve researched which plants grow best in your area, shopped for the best quality plants and carefully planted them in your garden. Your work is done, right? Wrong! Every gardener knows that planting is just the beginning of the work. It’s the beginning of a lot of work for the plants, as well.
A newly planted tree or plant is usually in a bit of shock. Nursery-grown plants have come from a warm, moist environment with fairly predictable temperatures and conditions. Planted in the home garden, plants must acclimate to cold soil, unpredictable moisture levels, temperature changes and harsh sunlight or wind. Plants’ responses to these changes may include slower growth, reduced vigor, wilting, leaf drop and in severe cases, death.
If given adequate moisture and protection from wind, cold and heat, plants will adapt to the environment, usually within two to four weeks, and begin establishing roots. Over the next few weeks or months, plants pass through several important milestones:
New Plant Development Milestones
- Increased foliage and size of flowers. A bit of water-soluble fertilizer can help get your plants off to the right start. As the plants begins to establish roots, they produce new, dark green leaves. Flower buds form and the flowers open. As the plants become stronger, flowers may become larger or appear in greater abundance.
- Increased vigor. Several weeks after planting, you may notice plants seem stronger and more vigorous. Annuals and vegetable plants, especially, experience rapid periods of growth. Shrubs and trees have slower growth.
- Disease resistance. Young plants are vulnerable to disease and insect pest invasions. As the plants grow and harden, they becomes less susceptible to pest problems. Interestingly, rabbits love to nibble on young, tender plants, but are less tempted by older plants because the leaves and stems are harder and less juicy.
- Increased productivity. Vegetable or fruit plants need the first few weeks after planting to develop strong roots and leaves. Later, the plants begin to produce fruit in abundance. By the end of the summer, you might be wishing they weren’t so productive.
- Earliness. Another important milestone for plants is their ability to mature before frost. This is critical for vegetable plants, of course, as well as flowers that are grown for seed. To encourage earliness, transplant plants as soon as the soil is warm in the spring. Use cloches and floating row covers to keep the plants warm and encourage fast growth. Select fast-maturing varieties if you live in an area with early frosts to ensure that plants ripen for a timely harvest.
- The final milestone in a plant’s development is seed production. For commercial growers, intent on harvesting seed, this is the most critical step. Some home gardeners may also save seed, although not all seeds can or should be saved.
Problems associated with drought, disease, insect pests or poor soil can halt a plant’s development at any point, but the first two to three weeks after planting are most critical. If you get plants off to a healthy start, they’ll probably thrive.
Select healthy plants adapted to your area and give them extra attention for the first two weeks after planting. Plant frost tender plants, such as tomatoes, peppers and melons, after the last frost. If young plants are nipped by cold weather, they may never fully recover. Feed plants with a starter fertilizer or balanced water-soluble fertilizer for extra nutrition.
Want to learn more about new plant development?
Start Seed and Transplants in Sterilized Soil by Colorado State University Extension
Transplant Care for Garden Plants by University of Nebraska-Lincoln
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