Transplanting Seedlings

Do You Need to Transplant Your Seedlings?

How do you know if you need to give your plantlets a little more room?  The first clue is if they start to slow down in their growth.  I probably should have transplanted mine last week, because they had started slowing down.  I didn’t realize that their little roots had already outgrown their first pots.  But today, as I transplanted the tomatoes, I found that their root systems were already trying to grow through the egg carton-like cells of their first home. 

 So, let’s see how we go about doing this necessary task.

Avoid Diseases: Use Clean Pots to Transplant

I went to the garden shed and got a bunch of pots from last year.  I had some 3 x 3 pots and some of what are known in the trade as four packs–that is, little light plastic planters with four cells.  These are like what your plants often come in when you buy them from the garden stores.   If you buy new pots, you can just transplant your seedlings into them, but if you are reusing last year’s pots, you will need to wash and disinfect them before transplanting your new seedlings into them.

Why do we need to disinfect our pots?  There might be fungi or disease-causing organisms in the soil clinging to the pots from last year.  We don’t want last year’s problems causing us trouble with this year’s garden.

So, I rinsed the excess soil off of my pots, and then I washed them in sudsy water with some chlorine bleach added.  You really only need about 2 tablespoons of bleach added to a gallon of warm water to have an effective and inexpensive disinfectant.  Of course, I always am a bit over zealous with the bleach, but, according to my old microbiology book, 2 tablespoons per gallon is sufficient.  Rinsing the excess soil off before washing helps with the efficiency of the disinfectant.  After washing, I rinsed the pots.

Don’t Transplant into Huge Pots

Notice that my pots weren’t huge.  I am going to need to transplant again in 2-3 weeks, probably, so why don’t I just put the seedlings into the final 5-6 inch pots, they will finally end up in?  The reason is that some seedlings like to be transplanted a number of times.  Believe it or not, transplanting several times actually speeds the growth of healthy root systems. 

Plus, in case your tomatoes get a little leggy, due to less than optimum light conditions, replanting the tomatoes deeply into new pots allows roots to form from the sides of the stems.  In the case of other seedlings, one can plant a little deeper, (though not as dramatically so as with tomatoes) and also re-anchor the plants in new soil from time to time.

 Water Your Seedlings Before and After Transplanting

A secret to successful transplanting is to water your seedlings before and after you transplant.  This lessens the shock to the plants’ root systems.  The ideal is to water your seedlings with tepid water about an hour before you will transplant .  This gives the roots time to soak in plenty of water before you will disrupt them.   When you disrupt the plants root systems during the transplanting process, you impair their ability to take up water and nutrients from the soil for a few days. 

 Also, you will expose your seedling’s rootlets to the air for a short while.  They do not like this at all.  When you place them into new pots and new soil, you water well again immediately,  so that you will eliminate any air pockets in the soil that might be around the roots, and you make water easily available to the fragile root systems until they recover.

Another advantage to watering before transplanting is that wet soil does not fall away from the root systems, as does dry soil,  but instead forms an adhesive ball around the roots that protects them from air and disruption when you lift the plantlets to move them from one pot to another.  This said, I don’t always water a full hour before transplanting.  Sometimes I water just before doing so.  An hour is just what the experts say, but there is a little leeway here, as with many things

Work Quickly, but Gently 

 Once you have everything set up, you will need to work quickly but gently.  You work quickly to minimize the amount of time the root systems will be exposed to the air.  A gentle touch is crucial because you are working with delicate seedlings.  They are more resilient than they appear, but there is not a whole lot of room for rough and tumble treatment either.

I can wear gloves for some garden tasks, but never for transplanting.  It requires a deft and light, but firm touch.  Often I place a little bit of potting soil in the bottom of the pot, lift or separate the seedling to be transplanted, and place it firmly into the little mound of soil in the bottom of the new pot.  I then fill in around the sides of the seedling, using my fingers to nudge the seedling to the position it should have, usually in the center of the pot, with the first leaves above the pot’s top. I firm the soil without packing it, and then, of course, water thoroughly.

Mark Your Seedlings for Quick Identification

It is always important to mark your garden plants for identification, especially when you plant more than one variety of say, for instance, tomatoes.  You can buy markers ranging in price from economical plastic markers at 8 cents each to boutique-style markers at 15-20 dollars each.  This year, I simply went to the dollar store and got a package of popscicle sticks from the teacher’s or crafts section for one dollar.  I used a permanent marker to write the varieties on the sticks and stuck them into the pots.  I didn’t have to mark all of the pots because I kept all of one variety on the same tray.

Care After Transplanting:

 Do not expose your plants to Direct Sunlight or Too Much Warmth

Because plants always experience a certain level of transplant shock, they are not capable of photosynthesis or water regulation for a few days after transplanting.  That’s why, it is always good to wait for a cloudy or overcast day when transplanting out into your garden.  You may place them in a shady place to recuperate.  Also do not let the plants dry out.  I have mine under the grow lights right now, but the heat lamps are turned off for a couple of days.  Grow lights are not as intense a light as direct sunlight, so they are not as hard on the newly transplanted seedlings.

In addition, avoid fertilizing for a few days, as your transplants don’t have the capacity to process the nutrients while they are in shock either.

You Will See Dramatic Results in Growth

  It has been three days since I wrote this blog and transplanted my tomatoes.  The results are amazing.  I can almost see the tomatoes and peppers growing.  I can sense that they are happily stretching their root-toes out in their new pots, and laughing in munchkin voices.   In a couple of days, they will be ready for another application of fertilizer.  If you use good potting soil, you too will see a burst of growth after transplanting your tomato and pepper seedlings. 

I hope this blog is of help to you who are starting their first gardens.  Remember, if you have any questions, be sure to click on the Leave a Comments link at the bottom of this article.  A dialogue box will open up.  I will be happy to answer to the best of my ability.   Until next time have a good week.

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