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15 Steps to Successfully Transplant Your Seedlings

15 Steps to Successfully Transplant Your Seedlings

Are you planning on starting your seeds indoors this year?

If you have, but need a little help getting started, take a look at my Ultimate Guide to Seed Starting. In this guide, I show you what tools you need to get started, then walk you through simple step-by-step directions.

If you have started your seeds, then you’ve probably seen them germinate, grow and develop their first set of true leaves.

Now that they’ve reached this stage, what’s next?

[Content Upgrade] 15 Steps to Successfully Transplant Your Seedlings

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15 Steps to Successfully Transplant Your Seedlings.

The process of transplanting is defined by moving or replanting a plant from one location to another. In seed starting, plants are frequently moved. The first time we move our plants, is when baby seedlings are transplanted from small-celled seed trays, to larger pots. It happens again when we transplant our seedlings from indoor pots, to outdoor garden beds or containers.

How do you know if your seedlings are ready for transplanting?

For the first time gardener, you may be looking at your seedlings in wonder, not knowing if they are fine to leave in their small cells or needing a move into larger pots?

Even the intermediate-level gardener may wait just a bit too long, thereby stressing the plant.They may be busy with other plantings or even with day-to-day life and miss that perfect window of opportunity to transplant their seedlings. Sometimes that delay in transplanting causes our seedlings to bolt, making the plants long, thin, lanky and starved for nutrition. Transplanting at this late stage, doesn’t always benefit the plant. The timing needs to be right, especially for certain plants.

Signs to look for in your seedlings, telling you they are ready for transplant:

  1. First true leaves have developed; these are the set of leaves, after the first emergent leaves
  2. Leaves are forming a canopy over the soil
  3. Leaves are bright green and healthy-looking
  4. Roots are beginning to emerge from the bottom of the pots
  5. Stems are thickening
  6. Leaves are beginning to exhibit a purple colouration (plant is already beginning to show signs of stress and has a Phosphorous deficiency)
  7. Seed leaves (cotyledon) have turned yellow (the leaves are no longer feeding the plant and the plant is receiving less nutrients from the soil)
  8. Soil needs to be watered daily, due to drying out (the plant is growing and requires more water)

Plants that benefit from transplanting:

Most plants benefit from transplanting into larger containers. These plants include flowers, herbs, brassicas, peppers, tomatoes and much more.

Other plants have delicate roots and are healthier when started in larger containers. These plants include squash, cucumber, zucchini, sunflowers and other large-seeded plants. Plant those seeds in 3.5 inch pots, then transplant the seedlings directly into the garden, after last frost. Do not start them in small cell trays.

How to successfully transplant your seedlings into larger pots?

Here comes the fun part!

Using these tools (listed for your convenience) and following the recommended steps below, you will find that your seedlings will grow stronger and healthier!

Tools Required:

15 Steps to Successfully Transplant Your Seedlings

Transplanting Steps:

  1. I use a potting tray, because I find that it saves time when potting and contains any mess, within the tray. By containing the soil, you are not wasting any that could potentially fall on the floor or table. I absolutely love using a potting tray and I highly recommend it! Simply fill your pots or cell packs over the tray. It’s quick and easy and it’s saved me a ton of time when seeding and transplanting.
  2. Pour your seed starting mix into the large tray. I use the same mix that I used when starting seeds (see Ultimate Guide to Seed Starting). You may add vermiculite to the mix, at a rate of 1/3 vermiculite to seed starting mix. Vermiculite will lighten the texture of the soil and improve drainage. Alternatively, instead of mixing it into the soil, you may add a layer to the top of your pots after transplanting. This approach will help to prevent “damping off”, a disease that lives in wet soil, and causes the stems of seedlings to rot and topple over. Vermiculite is optional.
  3. Line
    Pot lined with a coffee filter

    Pot lined with a coffee filter

    your 3.5 inch pots with one coffee filter each. The coffee filter prevents soil from spilling out from the bottom of your pots, through the drainage holes.
  4. Fill your pots with seed starting mix and tamp down the soil, with the bottom of another pot; if necessary add more soil, until it fills all but the top 1/2 inch of the pot.
  5. Make a well in the soil, in the centre of the pots with your thumbs, at the same depth as your seedlings.
  6. Water in the well.
  7. Using your widger, insert the wide flat end down the side of the cell, and gently lift up the seedling (soil and all), as though lifting with a shovel. Check out my video on using the widger.
  8. Gently lift up the plant, by the soil, and place it in the well you created.
  9. Using your fingers, gently scoop the surrounding soil up over the seedling soil and push the transplant down into the pot, creating a smooth surface; if needed add more soil.
  10. Optional: Top the soil with a layer of vermiculite.
  11. Water-in well, leaving the pots in the potting tray, to drain off.
  12. Place the pots back on their plant growing tray.
  13. Place the plant tray, filled with pots, back under your grow lights, ensuring to adjust the lights up, to 2-inches above the top of the leaves.
  14. Refer to the Outdoor Planting Calculator, to schedule transplanting your seedlings into the garden.
  15. Begin hardening off your seedlings, approximately 2 weeks prior to transplanting outdoors.
A "well" in the pot soil

A “well” in the pot soil


Lifting this pepper seedling up, with the wide and flat side of the widger

The seedlings are transplanted successfully

The seedlings are transplanted successfully

Using this method, you should have no trouble transplanting your seedlings. The widger is a very effective tool (check out my video on using the widger below). It allows you to work with seedlings at minimal disturbance. Rather than handling your seedlings by their leaves or stems, which may accidentally cause irreparable damage, this method will keep plant handling down to a minimum.

Timing is also an important component of successful seedling transplant. Don’t let your seedlings overgrow their cell packs. Keep a close eye on the number of developed leaves and the length of seedling stems. If the plants seem larger than the cells they are growing in, you may be certain that your seedlings are more than ready for larger accommodations.

Good Luck and Happy Gardening!

Here are the tools that I mentioned in the post.

Disclaimer: The links to some of these tools are my affiliate links. Meaning, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you, should you purchase the product through my affiliate link.


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Julia Dimakos

Hi, I'm Julia from Mono, Ontario, Canada. I began my gardening adventure after having children. Since then, my interest grew into a passion. I love growing vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruit and medicinal herbs. I'm here to show you that growing your own food is not difficult and in fact can be simple.