The First Days
Your seedlings have become established when you see healthy new growth. This can take a few days to a week, depending on the weather. Wilted leaves or drooping stems can be symptoms of transplant shock. Seedlings can go into transplant shock if they weren’t hardened off completely or if the weather is extreme. Most plants recover in a few days, but until they do:
In The New Seed-Starters Handbook (Rodale, 1988), author Nancy Bubel recommends waiting a week to 10 days after transplanting before fertilizing your seedlings. They will have sent out new feeder roots by then and will be entering their most active stage of growth.
How hard is it to put a seed in the ground, anyway? Not hard. Nature does it all the time. But of the thousands of seeds a plant may release, only one or two might germinate and grow. Hedge your bets by not planting every seed in the pack. If any seeds don’t sprout, you’ll have extra to fill in the empty spaces.
Plant seeds too deeply, and they may never germinate. Plant them too shallowly, and the topsoil might dry out during germination. Generally, you can plant a large seed at a depth equal to three times its diameter (not its length). Seeds of peas, squashes, and sunflowers and those of similar size are considered large seeds. Plant smaller seeds about 1/8 inch deep. The seed packet will give the proper planting depth for that particular seed.
Some seeds need light to germinate, so you can’t bury them. Either sift fine soil over them or leave them uncovered. But make sure the seeds make firm contact by pressing them into the soil.
To Hill or to Mound
Most gardeners sow seeds in rows—seeds spaced evenly in a line. But another way to plant seeds is in hills. When a seed packet recommends planting in hills, it means planting them in a cluster—not necessarily in a mound, as you might expect. Mounding the soil is optional. Cucurbits are often planted in elevated hills, because they need warm soil and good drainage.
Squash and melon expert and author Amy Goldman, in Rhinebeck, New York, plants her cucurbits in flat hills. She’s found that raising seedlings above the surrounding soil level causes them to dry out too quickly. She suggests mounding only if your soil is compacted or waterlogged. Jeremiath Gettle, owner of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, in Mansfield, Missouri, skips hills entirely and simply plants his cucurbit seeds in rows. He advises gardeners who plant in elevated hills to check the seedlings after a heavy rain to make sure the soil hasn’t washed away from the roots.