OK, so now you started your seeds and they are getting too big for their cell or they have elongated reaching for the light. It’s time to transplant either to another small pot or to the garden.
Although many seeds are easy to direct sow in the garden, many seeds will benefit from being coddled for a while inside in flats or cell packs & then moved to small pots after they are removed from their cell or flat.
We will discuss transplanting to the garden a little later, which is where you will start if buying your starts from the nursery. For now we will focus on moving your tiny seedlings to a larger pot, 3-4 inches, before they get thrown out into the elements.
It’s important that seedlings not get root-bound in any containment they are growing in.
Plants will wilt easily & begin to slow their growth due to stress. If buying starts from the nursery, roots growing out of the bottom of their cellpack in a mangled mess are NOT what you are looking for.
Transplanting to a small pot
You will need
- CLEAN 3-4 inch pots. Potting mix that is loose and loamy, moistened already. Small spoon or I like to use a small shrimp fork. If using gloves, latex or nitrile gloves are more gentle on seedlings than gardening gloves.
- Diluted kelp solution or compost tea
What to Do
- Scoop a little potting mix into bottom of the pot
- Very gently lift seedling out of it’s cell by sliding the spoon in along the outside edge of the cell to get under the bottom of the seedling & lift it out. Do not pull by the stem, try to handle the small rootball
- Place the seedling into the pot so that the potting mix can come up to the first leaves. (this is a good for seedlings that have elongated & flopped over. All seedlings can handle their stems being buried at this early stage up to the first set of leaves.)
- While holding the seedling upright with one hand, start to fill in the mix around it with the spoon. Hands & fingers tend to get in the way at this point. Don’t clump the roots.
- When filled in, gently press around the seedling with your fingers to tamp down.(air pockets are not good, air between the potting mix particles is all they need)
- Top off with more mix to leave ½ inch from the top. Seedling should be supported by mix
- Water well with diluted solutionPlace pots in a waterproof tray so they may be watered from the bottom by just filling the tray with water.
- Place in same place they were growing for a few days to a week to get them acclimated.
- Slowly, harden them off to the outside by increasing sunlight and time outside each day or so. Temps should be at least 60°F outside before putting out.
- Check water every day. Seedlings should not be too wet or too dry. Too wet, they will get damping off & die, too dry the will wilt & die.I always plant many more seeds than I need because there are always casualties.
- To keep critters like mice (they just love to eat seedlings) away, you can make a cage to put over them for protection. (see PROJECTS for instructions for a simple design)
- Water once a week with diluted kelp, fish emulsion or compost tea solution.
- Depending on their growth rate, seedlings should be ready for the outdoor garden in a couple of
Transplanting to the Garden
So now your babies are ready for the big time! If you are starting from cell packs from a nursery, follow the same steps from here.
Here’s what you need
- Hand trowel
- Organic fertilizer
Here’s what to do
- Transplant on a cloudy or drizzly day.( Ok, so that may be impractical, then transplant early in the morning or in the evening)
- Ideally, you garden bed should have had amendments such as aged manure, compost or top soil a couple weeks ago, but if not, do it now. At least two inches & mix well into the existing soil.
- Using a hand trowel, dig a hole for each plant.
- Mix a spoonful of organic fertilizer into each hole with more compost if your soil is mostly clay or sand.
- Placing your hand over the top of the pot with the seedling poking thru between your fingers, tip sideways & shake a little to pop plant out.Place in hole at same level or a little lower up the first set of leaves, being very careful not to disturb the root ball. (the less the roots are disturbed the less shock to the plant)
- Bring soil around the plant from the sides & gently tamp with your fingers around the stem.
- Water well & shade with a chair or something if sun too hot for a few days.
- Transplants need water every day till they become established.
- Mulch around plants as soon as they are big enough & soil is warmed to conserve water & protect roots from hot sun.
Keep weeded and enjoy watching your garden grow!!