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How to Transplant Seedlings

Updated on June 15, 2012

When growing plants from seed, the seed packet often gives instructions about 'pricking out' seedlings into larger pots when they are large enough to handle, but do you know how to transplant seedlings without damaging the plants?

I know you maybe have visions in your head about getting about a packet of tooth-picks or cocktail sticks, and poking your poor little seedlings to 'prick' them, but of course it's not that at all.

The term as used simply means to remove them from their nursery bed, into their next level of growth, where they will have some room to grow away from their neighbours, and so develop strong root systems.

However, transplanting seedlings is an art form all of its own. Do it wrong and you will lose some of the babies, so it is worth remembering the general rules about how to transplant seedlings.

transplanted tomato seedlings
transplanted tomato seedlings | Source

Rules for Transplanting Seedlings

  • Always hold the seedling by a leaf.
  • Never touch it's stem.
  • Gently separate its roots from its neighbors, while holding only a leaf. If the leaf breaks off, it will recover.
  • If you touch its stem, no matter how gently, it may die.
  • Read the seed packet carefully, and space your plants according to instructions.
  • If it says, 1" part, then make sure you place them 1" apart - if it says 3", place them 3" apart, and so on.
  • Wash and dry seed trays or pots before use, unless they are brand new. This will prevent any soil diseases or pests from being spread to your new plants.
  • Only add new compost to a seed tray. Old compost may have disease or weed seeds in it.
  • Follow the watering instructions carefully. Use a spray head where possible.

Planting on

When your transplanted seedlings outgrow each other on their seed tray or the place you transplanted them to, it is time to plant them in their final positions.

Seedlings are ready for moving when they have grown enough to touch each other.

It is really easy to move them on at this stage, as their root systems will have further developed and they are no longer at risk of dying off through rough handling.

If they are in a pot, let the compost dry out, then gently squeeze the sides of the pot to loosen off the soil from the inside edges.

Gently tip the pot on its side until the contents slide out, hopefully in one piece.

Then you can gently tease the roots of each plant to separate them from their neighbor and plant up in the final position in the garden, or in a pot or other container.

Leave as much soil around the roots as possible, to help prevent plant shock at being moved.

Seedlings in a seed tray can simply be lifted by scooping up the plant with the soil ball underneath it and transplanted into its final growing position.

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