Transplanting Your Seedlings into the Garden

Whether you grow your plants from seed and are hardening them off (or planning to), or you purchase your seedlings from your local hardware store, there is an art to getting them into the ground. It’s not a difficult art, but an art nonetheless, and a worthy one to learn.

Transplanting Seedlings into Your Garden

Anyone can dig a hole, insert a plant, and cover it back up; but unfortunately, transplanting your seedlings isn’t as simple as that. If that’s the transplanting method that you have used in the past, you have likely noticed that soon after, your plants began drooping and looking like they were dying. Sometimes they recover when this method is used, and sometimes they don’t.

What you are trying to achieve when you are transplanting your seedlings is a smooth transition from container to ground. I should mention that there are some seeds that do well sown indoors, and there are some that do not. Those in the former group tend to experience a tougher time at becoming acclimated to their new ‘home’, resulting in shock. Other seedlings are not as sensitive; especially if you can recreate a similar situation to your plant’s previous home.

  1. If the soil in your seedlings’ container is not already well watered, do that now and set them aside to drain.
  2. Find a location in your garden that has the correct amount of sunlight for the plant you are transplanting. Most summer vegetables will do well in full sun (6+ hours). Winter veggies will tolerate a bit of shade, but I like to plant them in full sun areas if possible. They just seem to do better in full California sun when temperatures are cool.
  3. Dig your holes. If you are planting like plants together, make sure to space your seedlings properly. They are small now and it may feel like you are wasting precious garden space, but your new plants will need room to spread out above ground, as well as below. Also, it is easier to harvest and control pests if they are properly spaced.
  4. Water your holes. I like to use a watering can and fill up the holes I just dug, for a couple of reasons: One, because it will mimic the same conditions that your seedlings are experiencing presently (if the soil in the containers is well watered), and two, because it gives me the opportunity to check the drainage of the hole where I’ll be planting my seedling.
  5. Carefully work your plant out of the seed package or pot. Holding your plant gently by its stem, turn container upside down so the whole root ball and all of the soil around slips out of the container intact. (Sometimes the soil will fall away and that’s ok, just don’t remove all the soil from the roots.) If it proves difficult to remove the plant from the container, gently squeeze around the pot until the soil comes loose from it, and allow plant and soil to slip out into your hand.
  6. Set your seedling into the ground at the appropriate level for planting and fill up with the original dirt from the hole. Fill up the hole around the plant, covering up to the original soil level of the plant. Gently pack the dirt around the plant, making a snug fit. If you will be using sprinklers to water this garden, form a well around each transplanted seedling so that it catches the water. This will make the water more available to the roots of your plant for a longer period of time. (This is not needed if you are using a drip line going to each plant.)
  7. Watch for your plant to start growing. This means that it is well-established and can be put on the same watering schedule as the rest of your garden. Water daily if needed, or less if the soil around your plant tends to stay moist.

Make a well around your transplanted seedlings, making water available to your plant's roots for a longer period of time.

Do you have a different method of transplanting your seedlings?

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  1. says

    There are several plants that HATE their roots disturbed. If you use peat pots you can set them directly into the ground. Also if you use a drench made with micronutrients, biology, molasses, and some macros, it will provide the seedling with the nutrition and the ability to take it up that it will need.

    If you plant an extra plant, the seedling in ideal conditions will have already sent out a root system within 24 – 72 hours. You can see this yourself by digging the extra plant up. It can be replanted, but will never do as well again.

    The least often a seedling is stressed, the higher it can produce. Drying out, too much water, not enough light, too cold, too hot, not big enough pot, in a pot past prime planting stage, etc are all stressors and will limit how much produce you will get.

    • says

      GREAT information, Pam! I’ve not heard of the drench that you mentioned–what an interesting idea. I’ll have to look into that because I am forever starting whatever seeds I want indoors, paying no mind to the fact that some don’t like to be sown anywhere but the ground. I’d love to be able to help them through the transition.

  2. says

    Never handle a plant by the stem! If anything, grab a leaf. I typically put the stem between two spread fingers and handle the root mass/ball.
    There are a few plants that can, and should, be planted deeper than originally seeded. Tomatoes are the most famous example.

    • says

      Thanks Bryan. Hmm, I would think that it would be easier to break off a leaf than to gently hold the stem while you are loosening the pot from the soil. I do like your idea, though I’ve not really had any issues at all gently handling the stem of a seedling.

      Yes, you are correct about the tomatoes, thanks for pointing that out.

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