How to Transplant Seedlings

Knowing when to transplant your seedlings can mean the difference between a healthy plant with a strong root system and a plant that may struggle in it's new container. Follow my easy tips to know exactly when to transplant your seedlings to help prevent transplant shock.

Things You'll Need:

  • seedlings
  • containers
  • potting soil
  • compost

Plants are ready to be transplanted when they have their first set of true leaves. The first set of "leaves" you see are not actually leaves at all but part of the seed itself. These "leaves" usually have a smooth edge and will mimic the shape of the seed that you planted.

After a seedling has grown for a week or two, a second set of leaves will sprout and the first set will begin to shrivel and die. This is perfectly normal. These leaves will look more irregular in shape and tend to look more like the adult leaf of the plant you are growing.

After the seedling has grown another week you should be able to gently tug on the seedling and it will hold firmly in the soil. This is an indication that the plant has a good root system started and it's ready to be transplanted.

To transplant, gently lift the seedling out of the soil using an old fork to help loosen the roots without damaging them. If you purchased seedlings from a garden center or farmer's market, the roots may have completely filled the original pot That's OK, just pull out the entire root ball and plant in your garden, once it has been hardened off properly.

Place the seedling in a pot that is only one size larger than the original pot it was in. Fill the pot halfway with soil, add the seedling, then fill with more soil. Water gently to remove any air pockets. Resist the urge to put the seedling in a huge pot. I've found that the plant actually struggles to grow when placed in too big of a pot.

Once the plant's roots have completely filled this pot, the plant is ready to be hardened off (if necessary) and planted directly in the garden or in a container. Learn how to properly harden off seedlings here.

Tips & Warnings

  • Mix one part compost into your potting mix to help retain moisture, add nutrients and repel pests and diseases.
  • Place seedlings at the same level they were in their original pots.
  • Check seed packets for important information about each plant.
  • Some plants don't like to be transplanted, but I've found many plants that are transplanted early (before they get too big) don't seem to mind being transplanted.

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Learn how to sow seeds in mini greenhouses, outside, during winter. A great technique if you are not good at sowing seeds indoors.

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