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Transplanting Seedlings to Larger Containers

Updated on April 7, 2011

     Depending on when you start your vegetable seeds indoors, you may be able to transplant them directly to the garden from the 1x1 seed starting cells. However, be careful that your seedlings are not getting too large for those cells. Failing to provide adequate space for growth is a leading cause of failed indoor seed starting. You should consider transplanting your seedlings into larger pots once they get their second set of leaves. Only exceptionally small flowers and vegetables can grow for more than a month in a 1x1 cell.

Root-bound pumpkin seedling
Root-bound pumpkin seedling

      To the right is a photo of a plant that is becoming root-bound. This means the roots begin to turn in and tangle onto themselves because of inadequate space to spread out. Generally root-bound plants can be saved by gently untangling some of the bottom of the root ball and then transplanting it immediately into a larger pot or the garden. See the second photo below of the same plant after the roots have been gently loosened.

      Take care not to damage the roots too much in small plants or they may fail to thrive or die.

     Certain vegetables are large fast growers such as tomatoes (all varieties), beans, pumpkin and squash.  To save yourself the trouble of multiple transplants you can start them in larger containers (be aware that peat pots will begin to decompose by about 6 weeks).There are many choices for larger transplant containers. An easy and inexpensive choice is peat pots. These come in various sizes and can be planted directly into the garden without removing the pots (the roots will grow right through). The medium 3-4 inch peat pots are generally adequate for most vegetables to remain indoors for an additional 3-4 weeks.  Another option is standard containers/pots used for container gardening. A third option is window box planters (see below). I like these because they fit well under the 4 foot fluorescent light I use as my light source. You can reuse almost any container with drainage holes. Just be sure that the containers are sterilized with bleach/water and that they were not previously treated with any chemicals.

· Fill the larger containers with expanding soil media such as Burpee Eco-Friendly Seed Starting Concentrated Seed Starting Mix. Be sure to use enough water to fully expand the brick. I use warm water, pouring it on a little at a time then pull it apart with a kitchen fork.

· Once it’s fully expanded, pat the soil gently to create a semi-solid base for your plants. Fill peat pots close to the top, for containers you should have at least 4 inches of soil to ensure room for the roots.

· Dig small holes several inches apart just a little deeper than your 1x1 cell height.

· Gently remove your seedlings from the 1x1 cells by putting a fork carefully down one side and pulling upward. (Loosen the roots if necessary as instructed above).

· Backfill the soil around the roots making sure the new soil is level with the original plant base. Pat the soil gently to create a firm base.

Be sure to provide extra water when the amount of soil is greater. When the weather is warm enough for your plants (during the day) you can start setting these containers out to become accustomed to the outdoors and bring them back in for the cool nights. The next step will be out to the garden!


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    • Bob Ewing profile image

      Bob Ewing 7 years ago from New Brunswick

      This hub will help those needing to transplant seedlings.