What You Need To Transplant

First be sure to use the same seed starting mixture that we used to plant the seeds. Do not use regular potting soil or dirt because that soil does not hold moisture as well, and may also contain some plant funguses and other problems. The root structure of the seedlings is still too delicate, and you want to do everything possible to get the plants to develop healthy and large root balls as quickly as possible. The roots are the foundation of the successful plant, and you want to do everything you can to nurture the growth of those roots.

You will want to use cell trays or individual peat pots to transplant your groupings of seedlings into their own separate cells. Cell trays are good for lettuce and tomatoes. Pure peat pots are made from formed, compressed peat moss and eliminate transplanting shock by planting the whole pot directly into the ground. They are good for plants that do not like their roots disturbed in transplanting, such as melons, cucumbers and peppers.

The two most popular vegetables to start indoors for transplanting are tomatoes and lettuce, and that is what we will transplant today.



Start with the tomatoes. I have two sets of tomato seedlings to transplant – some that were seeded two weeks ago and some that were seeded several weeks ago. The earlier seedlings from several weeks ago have been growing too long to be properly transplanted. I can tell because they are too “leggy,” which means they have a lot of stem without leaves, and they have lost most of their dark green color and vitality. Unfortunately I am tossing them into the garden to become part of the soil instead of transplanting them. The younger seedlings are smaller and look vibrant by comparison, and those I am putting into cell packs.

Before transplanting I take the seed starter soil that contains vermiculite, treat it with some slow release fertilizer, and dampen it with water. Then spread the mixture into the cell packs without packing it in too tightly. Next you want to use a stick of some sort (I use a Sharpie pen) and place holes into the center of each cell.

Take the packs of younger seedlings and choose the seedlings that have at least secondary leave structures (two rows). Carefully break them apart with a putty knife. Separate each seedling and its’ roots, and then place each one into one of the holes in a cell. Bury them deep enough so that the soil covers up to just below the first set of leaves. (The roots will actually grow out of the stems up to where it is covered with soil, making a better root ball for later transplanting into the garden outdoors.)

Transplanting The Lettuce

The lettuce seeds have been planted in a mini-greenhouse and therefore seedlings can be easily removed from the individual slots. Just take a pencil and stick it through the bottom of each slot to remove each seedling. These can easily be transplanted to the holes you make in the cell packs. Try to plant one to a hole but do not worry if two get tangled together.

If you want to eat some lettuce really early you may want to consider this idea. Take a medium size plant pot, fill with seed starter, and place several of the lettuce seedlings in the pot, providing it with a nice, warm spot to grow. This will grow into a small lettuce “kitchen garden” that you can begin to pick from sooner than later or you can give it away as a gift.
Every gardener can, with some simple planning, have the satisfaction of starting many of his garden plants from seed indoors in the early spring so that they are ready for transplanting into the garden come planting time, now just a few weeks away. It is hard to believe that just a short while ago we were still shoveling snow, and now here we are getting ready to plant our garden outdoors. Being able to speed up the transition from winter to spring is one of the aspects of gardening that I find most enjoyable.

As part of this process, germinating your own seeds and nurturing the seedlings into transplantable vegetable plants is challenging and rewarding.  Every gardener should try this.  It’s analogous fly fisherman catching a fish on a fly that he tied himself; a fun and rewarding experience.  If the seedlings do not thrive, don’t worry - there is always the local garden center where, although you will not have the variety that you have access to by starting your own seedlings, you will always find vegetable plants ready for your garden.

In the first four episodes we covered how to plan and plot your garden; what your various options are for buying seeds; what equipment requirements there are for starting seeds indoors. In our last episode we actually planted seeds using such methods as a common household tweezer; a “seeder;” and “pelleted” seeds. Those seeds we planted have now turned into seedlings. If you transplant the seedlings into larger pots or containers they will grow into larger and healthier plants.

Remember that when you transplant and nurture the seedlings further you still must keep them in a warm place, water them regularly, and provide a light source - either near a sunny window or under a grow light.
Transplanting Seedlings
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