Transplant Those Seedlings - Seed Starting Basics

seedling roots 2 400

My early seeds have germinated and are pushing out their second set of leaves or their ‘true leaves’. Thanks to the loose medium they were sown into, the seedlings have grown strong root systems. The lettuce seedling in the picture has  a fat, six inch long root system.  It’s time to move the seedlings into their individual pots so they can  grow into strong transplants, ready  to do battle with our Ohio spring weather. This is the third post in my ‘Seed Starting Basics’ series. If you haven’t read the first two, you can find them here: Get Your Stuff Together and Sow Those Seeds.

It is February 26 and, so far, I have ready for transplant: 2 varieties of onions, Narrow Leaved Echinacea, Flax (Linum perenne), Hollyhocks (Alcea ficifolia), Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), Pyrethrum (Tanacetum cinerariifolium), Foxglove (Digitalis purpureum), Purple Giant Hyssop (Agastache), Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis).

To transplant seedlings you will need:

Individual small pots – paper pots work well because you can transplant the pot and all right into your garden. Learn how to make your own paper pots in my post Get Your Stuff Together. If you don’t have a Pot Maker you can roll your paper strip around the bottom of a soup can. You can also use recycled 4 packs from purchased seedlings, or recycled yogurt containers, or ?? Just make certain to punch holes in the bottom of each container.
Enriched soil mix – you can use leftover seed starting mix if you enrich it with a soil based mix. 1/2  seed starter/1/2 soil based potting soil is good. You need a richer mix with soil in it for transplanting because the seedlings roots will begin to get their nutrients from the soil mix.
Labels and a black sharpie – I use cut up pieces of old window blinds for my labels.

To transplant:

Wet your soil mix with warm tap water and fill your containers. Tap the container on your table to settle the soil mix and remove any air pockets.
Remove a group of seedlings from their container – I use a spoon to remove sections of seedlings. Gently plop the whole mass onto a  solid surface – I use a dinner plate – to loosen the tangled roots. Use your fingers to separate the seedlings. The picture shows onion seedlings being separated.

onion seedlings roots 400

One by one loosen the seedlings and, this is important! – holding the seedling by a LEAF not the stem place the seedling into a hole you have made in your the soil mix and gently push the soil mix around the seedling – settling it into it’s new home. Always hold the seedling by a leaf because if you tear a leaf the plant will continue to grow and push out new leaves but . . if you break the stem  . . . the plant cannot recover. Plant the seedling – this is a lettuce seedling – at the same level it was growing in its old pot. Water the seedlings to settle soil around the roots.

transplanting lettuce 400

Of course, there is always an exception to the “same level” rule. In this case the exception is for tomato seedlings. You can plant tomato seedlings deeper than they have been growing because they are one of the few plants that will grow roots along their buried stems and ultimately give you stronger plants.
Set your newly tranplanted, watered seedlings aside in a not too bright spot for about half a day – I put mine on top of the dryer – and then put them back under your lights. This short rest helps the small plants get a foothold in the soil  before being back under the lights.

If you are growing bulbing onions from seed, the transplanting process is a bit different. I trim my onion seedlings – simply shear them with scissors – by a third when they are about 5 inches tall. This helps the seedlings grow a bigger root system. Put the trimmed seedlings back under the lights and grow them on – keeping them watered and fertilized. The seedlings can be trimmed a second time just before they are transplanted. The first picture shows the onion seedlings untrimmed. The second picture shows them trimmed.

onion seedlings untrimmed 400

onion seedlings trimmed 400

Instead of transplanting my onions seedlings into individual pots I transplant them, one-by-one, into rows in deep flats. I carefully remove sections of onion seedlings  and untangle the roots. . .

onion seedlings tp 400

and  – holding each small onion plant by its leaves – I transplant them into rows in aluminum pans or into 3-4 inch deep  flats. I punch holes in the bottom of the aluminum pans with a paring knife. I make a hole with a pencil  and plant the seedlings  about
1 1/2 inch to 2 inches apart in rows.

row of onion seedlings 400

onion seedlings flat done 400

Set the seedlings  side for a few hours of recovery time and put them  back under your lights.

onion seedlings in aluminum pan 400

If we are lucky enough to have a day with the temperature above 45° I set the flats out on the porch for a bit of sun and then bring them back inside at night or if the temperature drops.

onion seedlings in sun 400

Grow your transplants under lights for 15 hours. When your seedlings show signs of new growth, fertilize them every 10 days with half strength fertilizer. I use fish emulsion or a seaweed extract. Keep them watered and fertilized and soon they will be ready for the garden. Or rather, almost ready for the garden . . .

Part four of my Seed Starting Basics series will show you how to toughen up your seedlings for the harsh reality of an Ohio spring – think rain, wind, thunder, and lightening. Oh Nooooooo!

Hey from the farm,
Fran       The Country Cousin

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