> Volume 67
(November/December 2000, pages 219 - 220)
by Jim Hannah
Transplanting begonia seedlings from their original
germination containers to new 'quarters' is a simple process. It can begin
as soon as the wee little guys show their first set of true leaves. These
are the second pair to appear. When they are at least as large as the
original pair, the plants are far enough along to withstand the move. The
key is to keep transplanting shock to a minimum. A bit of preparation
The first step is to make sure you have the things
you'll need on hand. These are some planting medium (soil), pots or
containers, identification markers and some sort of a transplanting tool
to help you handle the little rascals. A trip to the supermarket, the home
furnishings section of a discount store, a stationery store, and a stamp
dealer can be useful here.
Let's start with the soil. Any good potting soil will
do just fine. A look through the Begonian will provide you with the
names of some suppliers, or you can go to your local garden center. If
you're adventuresome, you can mix your own. We do. We use a mix called
1:1:1. That's one part sphagnum peat moss (Canadian, not Michigan), one
part vermiculite, and one part perlite. It's best to add some ground
limestone to control the acidity. A good starting mix is a one pound
coffee can each of peat moss, vermiculite and perlite. Then add 2 to 3
tablespoons of ground limestone. Mix thoroughly, and water to moisten and
you're ready to go. It's best to do this outside -- peat moss can produce
a lot of dust in the air. If you're tempted to use your own garden soil, I
beg you to resist. Garden soils don't always work out well as potting
mixes, even though they may grow some absolutely super tomatoes.
Pots and containers are next on the list. It's
important for any pot or container to have a drainage hole at the bottom.
It's also important for the container to be tall enough. The mix in a very
shallow container can become waterlogged if you don't control the watering
very, very carefully. This condition can occur in shallow containers even
if there's a drainage hole and it will quickly wipe out seedlings.
Containers that are too shallow can also dry out very quickly with results
that are just as bad. If you want a lot of inexpensive containers in a
hurry, the plastic cups sold in packs of 50 in the supermarket will serve.
Just make drainage holes on the bottom edge. Don't make the hole in the
bottom itself -- when the cup is standing on a flat surface, there's no
way for the water to run out.
Markers are helpful if you are going to grow several
different begonias. A stationery store will carry permanent marking pens,
sometimes called laundry markers. The ink is really permanent. We use them
to mark the tags for our water lilies. The tags are a foot underwater and
remain legible for years. If you're using plastic containers, you can mark
directly on them.
The markers themselves can be the ones sold in garden
centers or you can become a bit more inventive. Don't use wooden popsicle
sticks or tongue depressors, though. The wood will rot out in a short
while. If you want a lot of tags for a true bargain price, look around the
home furnishings section of a discount store for a really cheap plastic
Venetian blind. You may be able to get one for as little as $3. The slats
can be cut into tags with scissors. They take and retain markings just
fine. We use them in our ponds. The cords can be used to tie up old
newspapers for disposal -- we try not to waste anything!
That brings us to tools. Some writers suggest using a
spoon handle or a popsicle stick to lift the seedlings out. We've found
that these are pretty clumsy for small seedlings, especially if they're
growing close together. If you can, go to a stamp dealer's store or get
hold of a stamp collector supplies catalog. We've found that stamp tongs
are just the thing for lifting small seedlings with minimal damage. The
'spade tip' style is by far the best. You can push them down on both sides
of a seedling and lift out a neat little 'plug'.
A few more comments will wrap things up. Your
seedlings have been growing in a closed container at 100% humidity. If you
transplant them, don't put the open container in a low humidity location.
The seedlings may not be able to adapt quickly enough and will wilt and
die. Rather, put the containers in a high humidity location or in a clear
plastic bag open at the top. As time goes on, you can simply adapt the
plants to lower humidity.
Finally, the seedlings will be very small at the 4
leaf stage. There's nothing which says they must be transplanted one to a
container. You can transplant several to a single container and then move
them on to their own individual containers once they've grown larger.
Next time the topic will be simple vegetative
propagation, or how to turn one plant into several. See you