The key to proper planting and transplanting is getting good soil-seed or soil-root contact.
What this means is that you want the newly planted seed and the newly transplanted seedling’s roots to be pressed into good, but relatively gentle contact with the soil. Think of it like a firm embrace as opposed to a crushing handshake.
Seeds want to be in contact with the soil, so that they can be warmed and watered by it, thus initiating germination. Seedling roots need structure to stand tall and physical contact to provide water and nutrients for the growing plant. But there’s more. Some seeds are sufficiently needy to require up to a month-long exposure to freezing or near-freezing temperatures as the first step in activation. Other seeds need to pass through the intestinal tract of an animal for best germination down the road — that’s definitely the case with hard-coated seeds like cherry pits. Once those seeds have gone through the cold and/or digestive tract treatment, like other, less needy seeds, they will respond to appropriate soil moisture and temperature and begin to wake up.
If your soil is loose and fluffy and your seeds are light and airy, then simply scattering them on the soil surface won’t allow them to take on moisture and germination will fail. If you take the time to press the seeds to the soil, you will get the process started much more efficiently. In the case of transplants, think of the root system as the bottom of a straw. If the bottom of that straw is in contact with moisture, then it will be able to convey that moisture up the straw as suction is applied. If a transplant’s roots are gently pressed into contact with the soil, they will be able to begin drawing life-supporting moisture into the plant straight off. If those roots wind up in a subterranean air pocket, they'll just be sucking air — and unlike most people, when most plants suck air, they die. If you crush those roots by packing them tightly with soil, you will suffocate them — in both cases, your plants will probably die. Take a little time to be sure that your seeds and transplants develop a cozy relationship with the earth, and you will reap the benefits in the form of bounty all season long.
Watch the full episode! Hanks shares hints like these in each episode of Tough Grit. Visit Tough Grit online to view this episode and many more. The soil contact tips above appeared in Episode 17, “You Reap What You Sow.”
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.