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Transplanting Seedlings - Gardening Knowledge for Backyard Gardeners

3 min read 14 Comments

Transplanting Seedlings - Gardening Knowledge for Backyard Gardeners

So, the hard part is over, right? Getting seeds to germinate and keeping them alive long enough to admire them is a rush… but now what to do? They’re going to keep getting bigger, and we know that the small pots they’re in aren’t going to do the trick forever.

If you live in the northeast like us, it’s a very real possibility to see snow in the middle/end of April, so we won’t be doing any planting outside until mid-May. The best way to help your growing seedlings is to transplant them into bigger pots, as well as begin to feed them small amounts of fertilizer.

A quick way to determine if your seedlings are ready for transplant and feeding is to count the number of leaves. Seedlings sprout one set of leaves after bursting up through the soil, but they’ll also sprout a second set of leaves shortly after. These are their first sets of ‘true leaves’. By the time you have 2-3 sets of true leaves, your seedlings are strong enough for a move to a bigger pot, and for a little bit of added nutrient now that they’ve taken all they can from the seed starting mix.

We spoke to Jaci, our Trial Garden and Germination Manager, about how to know when to transplant what, into what size container, and here’s what she had to say.

What Seedlings to Transplant & When to Transplant

Jaci: For the most part, you’re starting things indoors to give them a head start before they go outside. Sometimes things need to be started so far in advance that they outgrow the pot you started them in… hence transplanting. If you’re starting your seeds in seedling flats, you’ll want to transplant your seedlings into 3″-4″ peat, cow pots or upcycled container. The longer amount of time that the seedling will be in it’s ‘final pot’ (the last container before being transplanted into the ground), the bigger pot you’ll need. The general rule of thumb is that you disturb the roots of your seedlings as little as possible.

What Type of Soil Should You Use for Transplanting Seedlings?

J: I suggest transplanting into a potting mix that contains more nutrients. You can also mix in worm castings as a supplement; this is something I do with my own transplants.

What Seeds Do I Not Transplant?

J: Some plants have such delicate root systems that they can’t really be transplanted into another container, like radishes, parsnips, or carrots. These things need to be sown directly into the soil.

What's the Best Fertilizer for Seedlings?

J: By the third set of ‘true leaves’, you’ll want to start feeding your seedlings with a greatly diluted fertilizer. I use a 1/4 dilution of suggested measurement to start off. You don’t want to burn the seedlings, so be careful how much you use. I suggest using fish emulsion or seaweed fertilizer. You should fertilize about once a week with the diluted mixture. Keep an eye on your seedlings to make sure they stay green and healthy. If they start to change color or look unhappy, they may be missing a key nutrient.

After speaking with Jaci, We transplanted peppers and parsley into their new temporary homes. We moistened the potting mix with a little bit of water and mixed it all together by hand before pressing it gently into some Cow Pots.

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After making a little space with our fingers, we gently removed the seedlings from their original container and pressed them carefully into the holes that we prepared before pressing the soil around the base.

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Here’s how they’re looking now, about a week or two after transplanting.

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14 Responses

Garry
Garry

March 19, 2020

I have been starting seedlings indoors for 53 years. 1) First thing I learned is if you bought one of those seed started kits with a clear plastic top to keep the flat moist – do not use that cover, ever, you will loose the seedlings to damping off disease. Just water the flats every other day. 2) Do not put the sprouting seeds in a south facing window. The sun’s heat will make the plants grow too fast and they will be weak and libel to damping off. 3) If you use peat type pots they must be inside of some kind of container to keep the pots from drying out. ( I use my wife’s old cake pans). 4) For light I use florescent lights about 4 inches above the plants. 5) Side by side trials of different growth mediums showed no difference between mid range starter, top of line seed starter, and my back yard compost. The cheep stuff that looks like shredded wood is really bad. All I use is my compost.

Tom Roy
Tom Roy

March 11, 2020

Very helpful information. Thanks !!!!

Betty Stende
Betty Stende

March 09, 2020

Good advice. Also to mention, handle the transplants by their leaves, not the stems. The plant can make new leaves, but if you break the stem, you have killed the plant.

JoAnne W Cruz
JoAnne W Cruz

March 09, 2020

Been doing this for years and the “little green seedlings” are so uplifting as spring approaches! I ALWAYS “bite off more than I can chew”, i.e., not enough space for transplants on windowsills etc.and am usually very pleased with the healthy seedlings I end up with! Handling the transplanting of the little ones is essential and thanks for the advice on diluted fertilizer which I knew but sometimes get over zealous! I HATE damping off disease!!! It’s the worst!! I actually keep my house at a warmer temperature during seeding time to avoid this, but it still happens and is heart wrenching watching them fall and rot!

Darlene Arnett
Darlene Arnett

March 11, 2020

Once transplanted do they need to stay under lights until you harden them off? The problem I have is having enough lights to accommodate repotting everything.

I like to transplant tomatoes into deep 3 or 4 inch pots as they seem to thrive once they have the room.

Brenda Hudson
Brenda Hudson

March 06, 2020

Thanks for the updated information. Very informative.

DALE E GERMEROTH
DALE E GERMEROTH

March 06, 2020

I generally transplant much sooner than is recommended. I start my seeds in quite shallow seed planting flats that are only about a half an inch deep. As long as a person uses a gentle touch and lifts the seedling and some of the starting mix up so the stem does not have to be pinched between fingers, they transplant quite well at this stage. I also use a wooden barbecue skewer to first make a hole in the potting mix of the plants new home and then use that same skewer to lift up the seedling and gently set it into its new home. I gently add more potting mix to stabilize the seedling and very gently water it in so that the potting mix firms up around the seedling. Even petunias transplant well if done like this using a very gentle touch.

Susan Buckley
Susan Buckley

March 06, 2020

I prefer to order seeds and such from the catalog, however I am always interested in the wealth of information that you provide. I especially enjoy the recipes. I will continue to purchase our seeds through Pinetree because they are very high quality and provide us with spectacular vegetables.

Patricia Kipps
Patricia Kipps

March 11, 2020

Will they grow OK if the cow pots stay dry , esp on their sides, or should they be damp? If dry, will the cow pots suck out the moisture from the potting soil?

jerry lessard
jerry lessard

March 06, 2020

Good to know about leaves and timing. i will be starting my seeds around the 15th. of month!

thanks

Tommye Woods
Tommye Woods

March 06, 2020

Thank you. Very helpful advice

Jona McKay
Jona McKay

March 06, 2020

Thanks so much for the information. I appreciated the pictures too, that was really helpful. My tomato seedlings are ready to be transplanted in the 3-4 inch pots now, so that’s my weekend project. I definitely needed a reminder about the fertilizer and the dilution of it.

Debra
Debra

March 06, 2020

Thanks for this seedling advice. I love saving money by growing my own transplants. Also thank you for encouraging us small home gardeners.

Carol Blaser
Carol Blaser

March 06, 2020

I’ve been growing transplants for decades & personally don’t use fish emulsion inside due to the smell…even diluted. I do use when starts are outside in my tented enclosure but inside I prefer seaweed mix only.

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