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Seed Starting 101: Transplanting

May 20th, 2010

Now that your seedlings are hardened off it’s time to transplant them. You may think that all you have to do it plunk it in the the garden and you’re good to go, but that is not the case. Transplanting is stressful for little plants. We all know that stressed out plants aren’t as healthy and can succumb to diseases and insect problems more quickly than healthy plants. It would be a tragedy to go to all that hassle of starting and nurturing seeds, harden them off and then lose them because of transplant shock. There are a few things that will help your plants make it through transplanting with less stress.

The first thing you want to consider when transplanting is to MAKE SURE IT’S THE RIGHT TIME. You don’t want your seedlings to experience too stressful of weather conditions (depends on the type of plant, cabbages can take colder weather, peppers can’t). Make sure the threat of frost is over and that the night time temperatures aren’t too low. When the weather is right, pick out the spot in the garden for your plants and make sure it’s amended, free of weeds, and ready for your plants.

Of course you want to MAKE SURE YOUR PLANTS ARE PROPERLY HARDENED OFF, this is probably one of the biggest mistakes people make. They put the plants outside for a few days and assume they’re ready for the full-sun garden area. Take your time when hardening off your seedlings, they’ll do so much better if you’ve been patient during the hardening off period.

Pick an OVERCAST DAY to transplant your seedlings, or transplant them in the evening when the sun isn’t as hot. Your little plants will already be stressed from being disturbed during transplanting, don’t exacerbate the stress by planting them out in the morning on a hot sunny day.

Make sure you TREAT YOUR PLANTS GENTLY. Handle your plants by their leaves, they can do without a leaf or two, but breaking the stem can mean the end of the little plant. Disturb the roots as little as possible when you take them out of their pots to plant them in the ground. When you break and disturb the roots the plant loses it’s ability to take up minerals. There are many people that recommend watering with a weak fish emulsion or foliar fertilizer after transplanting. I usually water them in with a weak seaweed fertilizer.

You also should make sure you TRANSPLANT AT THE PROPER DEPTH. Some plants, like tomatoes & peppers can be planted deeper because they’ll grow new roots along the stem wherever they touch the soil. I always transplant my tomato seedling deeply, usually level with the bottom of the first set of leaves. Plants like lettuces like to have their root balls a little higher than the surrounding soil level, but most plants like to be planted at the same depth they were in their pots.

Have you ever lost any transplants due to weather, not hardening off, or improper planting?

The rest of the Seed Starting 101 Series
Why Start from Seed
Getting Started
Soil Mix
The Needs of Seeds
My Workflow
Diseases and Problems
Hardening Off
Learn More Each Season

Visit my Amazon store to see what seed starting supplies I like.

8 Comments to “Seed Starting 101: Transplanting”
  1. Christine on May 20, 2010 at 9:25 am

    With certain plants that often succumb to water loss, we also have luck removing some of the leaves if the plants are larger. With only a couple of leaves, they seem to survive a bit better at first, and eventually grow just as strong as their counterparts.
    .-= Christine´s last blog ..Making radish chips! =-.

    Reply to Christine's comment

    • Susy on May 20, 2010 at 9:31 am

      Very true. This is also a useful tip them propagating plants from cuttings. I often remove all but 2 leaves or on big leafed plants cut the leaves in half to prevent water loss.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  2. Amy @ Homestead Revival on May 20, 2010 at 9:52 am

    Thankfully, I haven’t had too many failures when it comes to transplanting, but then again, I use the newspaper cups. Sometimes I gently tear open the bottom of it (which by this time is starting to decompose anyway) so as to help the paper break down and let the roots go right to work.

    The thing I struggle with is the fact that some of the planting rules are counter-intuitive. It seems wrong to plant a tomato or pepper so deep until you understand WHY. It seems natural to just plant everything the same way, but you really do help and ensure greater success for the plant by knowing each vegetable’s nuances. I love your blog for all these tips! And I also use The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith to help me know what to do for each plant.
    .-= Amy @ Homestead Revival´s last blog .."Simply In Season" Give-Away =-.

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  3. MAYBELLINE on May 20, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Insects mowed down my transplants.
    These posts are very helpful.
    .-= MAYBELLINE´s last blog ..Garden Update =-.

    Reply to MAYBELLINE's comment

  4. Renee on May 20, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Yes, I was so excited about starting my garden this year (and so proud of clearing and bordering the little space it’s in) that I couldn’t wait to transplant everything outside. The lettuce and radishes survived (and thrived), but I had to re-plant a lot of seeds when seedlings got killed off by a late frost here!

    A lot of my tomatoes survived damping-off problems because I covered the stems when transplanting. They were so weak and spindly and had stopped growing, so I was surprised to see a lot of them survived. That is a great tip!

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  5. kjirsti on May 20, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Did you grow all the plants in the first picture from seed? I would love to see a picture of your seeding setup- What type of shelves, lights, watering system etc. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this blog. Beautiful picture and terrific insight. Thanks!

    Reply to kjirsti's comment

    • Susy on May 20, 2010 at 2:49 pm

      Yes I did. I have an old 3 tier flora cart in the basement that my mom got a garage sale a few years ago for $15. Since it’s cold in our unheated basement I also have a few extra grow lights that get put around the house wherever they fit: under the bar area of the kitchen counter, in any nook and cranny of free space in the living room, etc. Usually I seed the flats on the dining room table and store the seeds in the closet in my bedroom or in a corner of the dining room during the seed starting season.

      I water with a spray bottle and a small watering can and have a mix of trays/pots I’ve saved for years and that people have given me. I’ve probably only spent $100 or so on 2 lights and a few supplies.

      I’m currently working on relocating all my supplies and the cart into an organized seed starting area in the basement with a table to work on, etc. When I get this finished I’ll do a post about it with some photos.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  6. Lynn on May 20, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    I knew about the deep planting for tomatoes but not peppers. Dang! I planted some of my peppers yesterday. I’ll make sure the rest are deep planted.

    Reply to Lynn's comment


This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

Read previous post:
Seed Starting 101: Hardening Off

If you've grown your seedling inside under lights they'll need to be hardening off before planting them in the garden....