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How and when to transplant seedlings safely

A step by step care guide for repotting seedlings

How do you know when the time is right for transplanting seedlings from their seed tray to a larger container? What’s the right way to repot seedlings? Do seedlings need to be staked once they’re in a new pot? Why do I even need to transplant seedlings anyway?

If you’re growing your veggie patch in containers, and you have questions like these about the plants you’ve grown from seed, never fear. Patrick Vernuccio, aka The Frenchie Gardener is here, with all the tips for transplanting plants you need. Urban gardeners and container growers, this one’s for you!

Why do you need to transplant seedlings?

While it may seem obvious why you need to move your seedlings into a new pot (so they can grow bigger, of course!), there are actually several reasons to transplant seedlings.

Make room for root growth: As seedlings grow, their roots need room – not only to expand, but also to absorb nutrients. When you repot, you’ll give your seedlings additional space for root growth. Root growth is essential for healthy, thriving plants.

Replenish nutrients in soil: Seedlings consume the nutrients in the soil in which they grow. Over time, this nutrient source becomes depleted. Repotting allows you to add fresh soil, which, at the same time, provides a new source of nutrients for the seedlings.

To give seedlings better drainage: Over time, soil in containers can become compacted. This can lead not just to poor drainage but also – waterlogged soil. Repotting with fresh soil will give your plants better drainage, allow over-saturated roots a chance to dry out and prevent much-dreaded root rot.

To help correct seedling growth problems: If you see signs that your seedlings are struggling in their seed tray, repotting will help. For example, maybe it’s not obvious to you that your seedlings have a drainage issue, or their roots are crowded. Repotting will help to correct any issues that might be hindering growth. This will help your plants to thrive.

When is it time to repot seedlings?

When should you transplant seedlings from a seed tray? Timing for repotting seedlings can vary according to plant species. Each plant’s growing conditions will also have an effect on timing, too.

However, generally, seedlings need to be repotted once you see signs that they’ve outgrown their current container. A useful rule of thumb to follow is to wait until your seedlings have developed their first true leaves. True leaves are the second set of leaves that develop after their initial cotyledon (or seed) leaves.

Once seedlings have developed their true leaves, and you start to see roots poking out of the bottom of their containers – you’ll know that the time is right to repot.

If you’re wondering when to repot seedlings, know that the timing can vary. For example, radishes, arugula and kale are all fast growers and you will quickly see signs that they’ve outgrown their seedling container. Beets, on the other hand, are slower to germinate and grow, so the repotting interval may be longer with them.

How to repot seedlings

Your first best bet is to follow Patrick’s lead and do what he does – his tips for transplanting tomato seedlings, pepper and eggplant seedlings are an excellent guide. But for those of us who like to read step-by-step how to transplant seedlings (hands up!), here you go:

Step one: Prepare your new container

Choose a container that’s slightly larger than your plant’s current container, and make sure it has drainage holes. Clean the container you plan to use thoroughly with soap and water. Add fresh soil and tamp the container or press the soil down to remove air gaps. You can also lightly wet the soil in order to ensure even watering once you transplant.

Some growers like to use a 50:50 mix of seed starting mix and potting soil. Seed starting mix is very lightly (if at all) fertilized. Diluting potting mix with it will prevent young roots from being harmed by soil that’s too rich in nutrients.

Step two: Water the seedlings

Water your young plants thoroughly before you repot them. This will help minimize shock, and has the added bonus of making it easier to remove seedlings from their current container.

Step three: Gently remove the seedlings

This step will vary according to the kind of container your seedlings are growing in. That being said, in each case, be sure to gently remove seedlings from their container. Turn a pot over to carefully tap out a young plant, press the bottom of a flexible seed tray cell to gently push out the soil plug – methods will vary, but gentle care is always called for.

Step four: Loosen the roots

If you find that the roots of your seedlings have circled around their root ball, you can gently loosen them up with your fingers, a fork or even a popsicle stick. Loosening the roots helps them to establish a stronger root system in their new container. Strong roots make for a strong plant.

Step five: Plant your seedling into its new container

Make a planting hole in the center of the soil in the new container, and carefully place your seedling into it. Fill around the seedling to anchor it into its new position, and while gently holding the seedling, fill in the pot around it. Fill the container until the young plant is at the same depth as it was in its previous container. Press the soil or gently tap the pot to remove air pockets.

Step six: Water the transplanted seedlings

Once you’ve successfully repotted all of your seedlings, give them all a substantial watering. This will reduce plant stress to your newly transplanted seedlings (transplanting is a shock to the system!), and it will also help to fully settle the soil. Add more soil to your container if you find that watering reduces the level of soil in the pot.

Start with the right seeds

Growing food in containers can be done very successfully, as Patrick has shown us in his videos. You don’t even need a lot of space in which to grow. And, when you’re armed with the right information about how to choose seeds plus how to start seeds indoors – you’ll be well set for a true urban gardening adventure.

If you’re looking for a great spot to buy seeds, look no further than They offer all organic, non-hybrid, non-GMO heirloom seed varieties in a massive range of varieties. Try something new, or pick up an old favourite, and get growing.

Click here to explore and start planting today!

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