Transplanting seedlings to larger pots will allow your plants to be stronger and healthier. It's easy to transplant seedlings in just a few simple steps.
You planted your seeds. You watered them and gave them heat. They germinated! And now they have their true leaves and are starting to outgrow their little starting trays. Now what? Let’s take a look at how to transplant seedlings into larger pots.
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If you already have seedlings that are outgrowing their starter pots, read on!
One thing to think about as you go through this is that you may decide to do things differently. I have tried to give options, but every gardener has to find the best methods for themselves. See what works for you. Try different things. As gardeners, we have to be flexible because there are so many variables! But don’t let that deter you. Enjoy the process and the experience you gain as year after year you learn more and more.
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Why should you transplant seedlings to larger pots?
This step of transplanting seedlings from where you started them to a larger container is important. Seedlings need room to grow. Small seed starting trays or peat pellets don't give seedlings enough space for their roots. If you use the dense planting method, you will have a large number of seedlings in one small space. You definitely don't want them to compete for nutrients. The idea is, of course, to get as many healthy plants as possible.
2 to 3 inch pots: You can use plastic pots. I use these and love them. You can also use plastic drinking cups. Just make sure to poke some holes in the bottom for good drainage. Or you can use peat pots. I have used this type of peat pot in the past with good results.
Plastic trays: I have some of these that I bought last year. I bought the pack of 50, but you can just get a pack of ten depending on how many seedlings you have. I love them! It makes it so much easier to move the seedlings around. When it gets closer to transplant time into the garden, these trays make it a lot less work to move the plants in and out when you are hardening them off.
Grow lights or fluorescent lights
Potting soil or soiless mix
When Should You Transplant Seedlings?
When seedlings first germinate, they have cotyledon leaves, or seed leaves, that come from the seed itself. These provide nutrients to the little seedling as it germinates and for the first bit of its life.
Soon after germination, you will see the plant’s true leaves develop. You will notice that these leaves look like the leaves of whatever plant you planted. Cotyledon leaves generally look kind of the same on most plants. Once the plant is finished using the nutrients from the cotyledon leaves, they will usually shed off.
Now, when the first two true leaves have developed and plants are about 2 to 3 inches tall, you can transplant. It’s important not to wait too long to transplant your seedlings into bigger pots.
But don’t stress out if you don’t get the seedlings transplanted exactly as you had scheduled. These little guys are pretty hardy and can withstand and bounce back from a lot. Just don’t wait too long. If the seedling’s roots get overgrown, or root bound in their pots, they will not thrive.
How to transplant seedlings
- Gather your materials as specified above.
- Fill your pots with soilless mix or whatever potting soil you choose. I prefer the seed starting soilless mix because I know it is sterile. It is also light and fluffy, so seedlings are able to grow their roots more easily through the mix.
- Water your soilless mix
- Use a butter knife or your hands to gently remove the seedlings from their current containers. Be very gentle. Do not pull on the stem as you remove seedlings from their current home. A butter knife works well to pry the seedlings out of their current seed starting pots.
- Using your finger or any other device, create a hole in the new pots for the seedlings. Plant the seedlings at the same depth they were in their original pots. I just push them in a little way with my finger.
- One exception to this is tomatoes. Tomatoes can be pushed down all the way to their true leaves. They will grow roots all along the stem.
- Another exception is if your plants are “leggy.” This happens when your plants don’t get enough light. They try to reach for the light and their stems become long with little leaves at the top. You can try to help these leggy plants recover by transplanting them deeper than you normally would. Plant them almost up to the true leaves.
- Make sure that there is soil to the top of the pots.
- Water carefully. You have a couple of options for watering:
- Bottom Watering: With this method, you will pour water into the tray in which your pots sit. Let the water soak up through the bottom of the pots until all of the soil is wet. Do not leave the pots sitting in the water. This will provide too much water for the seedlings. Too much water is just as bad as not enough.
- Top Watering: Using a watering can, water the plants from overhead. Ideally, you will try to keep water away from the leaves of the seedlings. Getting the leaves wet can cause fungal and mold growth. I have not personally had a problem with top watering, but just be aware that plants can be more susceptible to disease if watered this way.
- Seedlings should have about 12 to 14 hours of light. You will probably need to provide them with artificial light from grow lights or fluorescent lights to get to this amount. You may also have to play with the placement of how far away you place the lights from the seedlings.
- Seedlings still need warmer temperatures at this point. Depending on the types of seedlings, you can let them get a little cooler, but don’t let your temperature go below 50 degrees. Around 60 – 75 degrees should be good.
- Some people like to fertilize their seedlings at this point. I do not use fertilizer on mine, but if it’s something you are interested in, this would be the time. Make sure that you give the seedlings a lower dose of fertilizer than you would a full-grown plant. Do your research on fertilizers before you use them. Here’s a post that explores the basics of fertilizer.
As you can see, transplanting seedlings is really not that difficult. It's an important part of the seed starting process and shouldn't be forgotten. Your seedlings will be happy that you gave them the extra space to grow. And you will be rewarded with a bountiful garden harvest. How do you transplant your seedlings?
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3.5 inch pots: These are very flexible and can be reused for many years.
Peat Pots: These work well if you want something compostable.
Plastic Trays: I struggled a lot before I bought these plastic trays to keep the plants together and easy to move around.
Soiless Mix: I like using a fine mix so that roots can grow well.
Watering can: This is the watering can I will buy when I need a new one.