The Novice Gardener: How will I know when to transplant? – Pinetree Garden Seeds


So, the hard part is over, right? Getting my seeds to germinate and keeping them alive long enough to admire them was a rush… but now what do I do? They’re going to keep getting bigger, and even I know that the small peat pots they’re in aren’t going to do the trick forever. Well, this is where transplanting comes in.

If you live in the northeast like me, it’s a very real possibility to see snow in the middle/end of April, so I won’t be doing any planting outside until mid-May. The best way to help your growing seedlings is to transplant them into bigger pots, as well as begin to feed them small amounts of fertilizer.

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A quick way to determine if your seedlings are ready for transplant and feeding is to count the amount of leaves. Seedlings sprout one set of leaves after bursting up through the soil, but they’ll also sprout a second set of leaves shortly after. These are their first sets of ‘true leaves’. By the time you have 2-3 sets of true leaves, your seedlings are strong enough for a move to a bigger peat/cow pot, and for a little bit of added nutrient now that they’ve taken all they can from the seed starting mix.

I spoke to Jaci about how to know when to transplant what, into what size container, and here’s what she had to say.

Amie: So, give me a little bit of a rundown on transplanting… what to transplant, and when?
Jaci: For the most part, you’re starting things indoors to give them a head start before they go outside. Sometimes things need to be started so far in advance that they outgrow the pot you started them in… hence transplanting. If you’re starting your seeds in seedling flats, you’ll want to transplant your seedlings into 3″-4″ peat or cow pots. The longer amount of time that the seedling will be in it’s ‘final pot’ (the last container before being transplanted into the ground), the bigger pot you’ll need. The general rule of thumb is that you disturb the roots of your seedlings as little as possible.

A: What type of soil should I be transplanting into? I know that I can’t use just the seedling mix again.
J: I suggest transplanting into a potting mix that contains more nutrients. You can also mix in worm castings as a supplement; this is something I do with my own transplants.

A: Are there some seeds that should not be transplanted?
J: Yes. Some plants have such delicate root systems that they can’t realistically be transplanted into another container, like radishes or carrots. These things need to be sown directly into the soil.

A: What about fertilizer? When should I start feeding my seedlings?
J: By the third set of ‘true leaves’, you’ll want to start feeding your seedlings with a greatly diluted fertilizer. You don’t want to burn the seedlings, so be careful how much you use. I suggest using fish emulsion or seaweed fertilizer. You should fertilize about once a week with the diluted mixture. Keep an eye on your seedlings to make sure they stay green and healthy. If they start to change color or look unhappy, they may be missing a key nutrient.

After speaking with Jaci, I went home to transplant my peppers and parsley into their new temporary homes. I moistened my seed starting mix with a little bit of water and mixed it all together with my hands before pressing it gently into some Cow Pots.


After making a little space with my finger, I gently pulled the seedlings from their original container and pressed them carefully into the holes I’d prepared before pressing the soil around the base.


After giving them a light feeding, I set my seedlings back under their grow lights once more.


Here’s how they’re looking now, about a week or two after transplanting. I also started some aspabroc, which you can see next to the parsley!


How are your seedlings looking? Feel free to share photos of your seedlings on our Facebook page!

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