How to Transplant Seedlings

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If you’ve started some plants from seeds, you may have plants that are getting too big for their seed-starting containers. But what do you do if it is still too cold to put the warm season crops out in the garden? You need to transplant those seedlings into a larger container. This is also sometimes called “potting them up.”

How to transplant seedlings
If the seeds you started indoors are outgrowing their containers, it’s time to transplant the seedlings to a larger pot.

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Just as there are many types of seed starting containers, there are many things you can use to transplant your seedlings to larger pots. Amazon and garden centers carry various sizes of peat pots that can be used and planted directly in the ground. You can also find plastic pots that can be reused each year. But my very favorite type of “pot” to use is a paper cup (similar to these) that you can find at your local grocery store.

Paper cups are easy to get the plants out of when putting them in the garden, and can be tossed when you are done with them. The one downside to paper cups, is that they do not come with drainage holes in the bottom. Therefore, you will need to create your own. I usually stack about 5 cups together and punch 3 holes in the bottom of the stack with an ice pick.


Two seedlings in a pot
Two seedlings in a pot

Before we get started transplanting, we need to chat about extra seedlings. Since you may have planted more than one seed in each container, more than one may have germinated. The best way to remove the extra seedling(s) is to take a pair of small, sharp scissors and snip off the plant(s) that look the weakest. Leave the best one to transplant. Don’t pull the plant out because doing so will disturb the roots and could damage both plants.


How to get the seedlings out of their current container

The first thing you need to do to transplant seedlings is to take your transplant out of its current container, if necessary. If you used the peat pots you don’t need to remove the pot, you can plant the whole container in your new transplant container.

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If you used the Jiffy pellets (which are my favorite for starting seeds) you need to remove the outer netting on the Jiffy pellets. Though the netting is bio-degradable, I am still finding some in my garden from several years ago. Do yourself a favor and pull it off now.

If you are using cell blocks, you will need to gently push up the transplant from the bottom of the container until the plant starts to come out. DO NOT pull upwards on the plant itself. Doing so can disturb the roots and even rip the plant out of the soil.

How to Plant the Seedling in Its New Container

Once the plant is out of the container, you will want to put a bit of soil in the bottom of a larger pot/cup and gently place the plant in the cup. The plant needs to be the same depth in the new container as it was in the original container. The exception to this rule is for tomatoes. Tomatoes can be transplanted up to their bottom leaves. This is especially helpful if they have gotten a little leggy, as mine tend to do.

Next, you want to fill around the plant with some more potting soil. Be very careful as you do this since plants this size are extremely fragile. Lightly pack the soil around the plant. Be sure to label your transplant and place it in a container that can hold water.

Once all the plants are settled in their new pots, carefully water them from above to settle the soil. After this initial watering from above, always water the plants from below to prevent fungal diseases.


A tomato grown from seed
A tomato grown from seed

Continue to keep your plants watered and under the grow lights. It is best if the plants are only about one to two inches from the light. As the plants get taller, move the light up or the plants down so that the light remains just above the plants.

On warm days, I typically set my plants outside in a protected location for an hour or two. Doing so helps to acclimate them to the outdoors. Be sure you don’t forget and leave them outside overnight, especially if it will dip below freezing. Most summer crops can’t handle the cold and will die with even a light frost.

If you are anxious to get a head start on harvesting tomatoes, I’ve got a post that will help you get a jump start on growing tomatoes. Using a few inexpensive gardening supplies, my mother harvested her first tomato on May 15 last year! (That’s really early for our zone 7 gardens. You can usually expect your first tomato around July 4 in these parts.)

Do you have a garden plan ready to go? Have you started any seeds yet? If so, what do have growing?

Transplanting seedlings

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