How to Transplant Seedlings

Plants are resilient, and can handle less-than-optimum transplanting conditions. However, there are a few key steps that will increase the chances of success when you’re transplanting.

Transplanting is simply moving a plant from one area to another, or from a pot into its permanent home in the garden.

It’s generally a stressful time for the plants, and the keys to success are really all about minimizing stress to the plants.

Step 1: Before you even transplant seedlings, one of the most important things you can do is “harden off” your seedlings.

Hardening-off means that the seedlings gradually become accustomed to life outdoors, after spending their life so far in a cozy greenhouse or in your home.

Life outdoors is different: more wind, higher and lower temperatures than they’re used to, likely less frequent watering, stronger light intensity (if they’ve been in the house), rain falling on them, etc.

To harden off your plants, gradually expose them to outdoor conditions, setting them outside for a while, and then bringing them back inside… over a period of a few days.

If possible, move your seedlings outdoors for the first time when it’s warm (>15C) and overcast. Alternately, set them in the shade. They should be out of the wind, or at least away from strong winds.

Start with a couple of hours, then bring them back indoors. Work up to a half day and then a full day outside.

When this is done over several days, the plants adapt to a different way of regulating temperature and moisture levels within themselves.

Watch your plants closely for signs of sunscald, wilting or soil drying out. They may need to be watered more frequently than they were indoors.

Once your plants can handle being outside in the sun all day, they’re ready for planting!

Transplanting

  • When your soil is ready (loose and moist, not too wet), use a trowel or small shovel to dig a hole. Make the hole a little deeper than the pot that your plant was growing in.

  • Fill the hole with water

    • Bonus: add some plant food to the water, such as some compost brew, or nettle tea. The water will soak into the soil quickly.

  • Add some compost or minerals to the hole (according to what your soil requires, and according to what you’re planting).

    • Tip: “fruiting” plants require more nutrition, and do well with a generous addition of compost or other natural fertilizer added to the planting hole. Eg, tomatoes, peppers, melons, etc.

  • Mix the compost with a little bit of soil, then set your plant in the hole (being careful to not damage the stem or leaves)

  • Scoop dirt back into the hole around the plant, and firm the soil by patting it.

    • Tip: Tomatoes can be planted extra-deep, especially if they are lanky. They’ll grow roots along their stem, and can be planted with the first set of leaves at ground level.

  • Water the seedlings thoroughly. This initial watering is important, because it sets up a “wet zone” in the soil that will re-moisten easier with the next watering.

  • Keep an eye on your plants over their first week in the soil, as it’s the time when they have a high water requirement, while they establish new roots in your garden.

That’s it!

Transplanting is a simple process, and these few key steps will give you good results.