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Transplanting Seedlings - Gardening Knowledge for Backyard Gardeners
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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.


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


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


18 comments on Transplanting Seedlings - Gardening Knowledge for Backyard Gardeners

  • Pinetree Garden Seeds
    Pinetree Garden SeedsMarch 20, 2023

    Hi Connie,

    You can use clay pots but they dry out quickly so keep an eye on them and water regularly.
  • Connie
    ConnieMarch 20, 2023

    Can I put seedlings in small clay pots

  • Robert Kirchherr
    Robert KirchherrMarch 03, 2023

    I bought one of the $59 green houses and set it up in my basement. With a small electric space heater and some grow lights I can get an early March start with my seedlings.

  • Marti Caldwell
    Marti CaldwellJanuary 25, 2022

    Damping off is a disease and is spread in containers or soil that isn’t sterile. Clean your pots or flats before use and give them a bleach soak and then use seed starting mix – it is not soil and doesn’t contain the soil microorganisms that can cause damping off. Use potting soil to transplant once the second set of leaves is present and healthy. Damping off isn’t as much of a threat then.

  • Garry
    GarryMarch 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.

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