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How to Transplant Seedlings After Germination

Starting plants from seed is one of the most rewarding ways to grow a garden. There’s nothing like seeing those tiny seeds turn into healthy food and beautiful flowers.

After all that hard work tending your seeds, you want to make sure you transplant them the right way to keep them growing healthy.

Here I’ve put together a complete guide on how to transplant seedlings after germination. From potting up to transplanting seedlings outdoors, this guide has you covered!

Transplanting seedlings in a garden.

How to Transplant Seedlings after Germination

Watching seeds sprout is just the beginning of growing a healthy garden. Once you see those little seedlings emerge, the real work begins.

Transplanting seedlings after germination is an important part of caring for your plants. Most seed trays are designed to help seeds sprout but not to hold plants long-term. Plants need to be transplanted into different containers to continue growing well.

Eventually, most plants will be moved outside to the garden where you’ll transplant them again. If you’re growing an indoor garden, you’ll also want to learn how to transplant seedlings after germination to keep them healthy and strong.

How to Transplant Seedlings into Bigger Pots

Potting up is one stage of how to transplant seedlings after germination.

Seeds that are started in seed trays often outgrow their containers before it’s time to move them outside to the garden. If the container is too small, plants won’t have room to grow and develop strong roots. They may use up all the available nutrients and stop growing.

If this happens, it’s important to transplant the seedlings into larger containers by potting them up.

If you’re not familiar with the term, “potting up” means to move the plants “up” into a bigger pot.

In bigger pots with more soil, plants have plenty of space to stretch and grow and there are more nutrients available to help them thrive.

How to Tell When its Time to Pot Up

There are several signs that let you know when it’s time to transplant seedlings after germination. If you see any of these, it’s a good time to transplant!

  • Seedlings look healthy but don’t seem to be growing
  • The seedling is twice as tall as the container it’s currently in
  • Roots are sticking out the bottom
  • Leaves look droopy or yellow

Transplanting Seedlings into Bigger Pots

Choose containers to plant your seedlings in. Fill the containers with a high-quality potting soil like Fox Farm. Make a hole in the soil large enough to accommodate the seedling with all of its roots.

Gently remove the seedling from its previous container. You can remove the entire block of soil with the plant, or very gently pull the plant out of the soil. If the plant doesn’t come loose easily, don’t try to force it. Plant the whole thing instead.

Fill in around the plant with soil and water thoroughly with a watering can.

Separating Seedlings

Seedlings that need to be separated.

If you planted multiple seeds per cell you may need to separate the seedlings before transplanting them into bigger containers. Remove the entire block of soil from the container and gently pull the seedlings apart. You can use your hands or a small tool like a chopstick to separate the seedlings and their roots.

Be very gentle and try not to disturb the roots too much. If the seedlings don’t come apart easily, choose the strongest one and snip the others away rather than separating them.

If you have more questions on how and when to transplant seedlings into bigger containers, we have a complete article on potting up.

When to Transplant Seedlings Outdoors

Seedlings in the garden.

Learning how to transplant seedlings after germination is just one part of it. Figuring out when to transplant seedlings is equally important!

Check the Weather

The right time to transplant seedlings outside depends largely on the weather. Cool-weather crops like broccoli and herbs can be planted a few weeks before the last frost. Heat-loving plants like tomatoes and peppers need to wait a few weeks longer until all danger of frost has passed.

Check the back of your seed packets to see when the right time is for your particular crops.

Wait until Seedlings are Big Enough

It’s also important to wait until seedlings have grown a bit before moving them out to the garden. Larger plants tend to handle transplanting outside better than tiny seedlings.

Tiny seedlings are still delicate and benefit from a protected environment a little longer. Larger plants are more sturdy and are less likely to have transplant shock

How to Tell When it’s Time

Seedlings that may be ready for transplanting in the garden.

The right time to transplant seedlings can vary depending on the specific crop you’re growing. In general, seedlings should have at least two sets of true leaves and be at least 2-3 inches tall. Our article on When to Transplant Seedlings has more information to help you know when seedlings are ready to be transplanted.

How to Transplant Seedlings Outdoors

Transplanting seedlings outdoors is one of the best parts of gardening. It’s so exciting to see a bare garden come alive again!

Prepare the Planting Location

One of the first things to do before transplanting seedlings outdoors is to make sure the soil is ready.

Healthy soil is crucial to a healthy garden. With the proper nutrients and pH balance, plants are set up for success right from the start.

An at-home soil test kit is a great way to check the health of your soil and see if it needs any amendments. You can also have a soil test done through your local extension office. Based on the results of the test, you’ll know what your soil needs and how to amend it.

Adding compost, aged manure, or leaf mold is always a good idea to increase the organic matter in the soil. Over time, garden plants use up the nutrients in the soil. Adding organic matter is a great way to put nutrients back into the soil and keep it healthy and fertile.

Harden off Seedlings

Seedlings hardened off in the garden.

When you start seedlings indoors they’re protected from harsh conditions outside, like varying temperatures, wind, and rain. To reduce the risk of transplant shock, these pampered plants need time to get used to the outdoor elements.

Hardening off is an important step in transplanting seedlings after germination and shouldn’t be skipped!

To harden off seedlings, set your plants outside for a few hours each day. Slowly increase the time the plants are outside until you’re leaving them out overnight. After a few days of being left out overnight, you can transplant them into the garden.

While hardening off, check on your plants during the day and add water as needed. Small containers tend to dry out sooner in the sun and wind outdoors. Before they’re transplanted into their permanent location, seedlings may need water more often than they did indoors.

For more information on how and when to harden off seedlings, check out our Hardening Off Guide.

Choose the Strongest Seedlings to Transplant

It’s common for gardeners to start more seeds than they actually need. That way, if some seeds don’t sprout or don’t thrive for whatever reason, you still have enough healthy plants for your garden. Having multiple seedlings also gives you the chance to see which plants are the strongest and healthiest.

I know it’s tempting to transplant every single seedling, but make sure you only plant what you have room for. Crowded plants won’t grow as well or produce as much. You’re much better off having a few healthy plants rather than a whole lot of crowded plants.

If you have extra plants and you don’t want to throw them away, share them with friends and neighbors!

Using a spoon to separate seedlings.

How to Tell Which Plants are the Strongest

Healthy seedlings have strong, sturdy stems and dark green leaves. The stems should be thick and short rather than long and thin. Tall plants may look healthy at first glance but if the stems are thin and spindly they won’t be as strong.

When it comes to seedling health, short and stout is better than tall and thin!

Transplanting Seedlings into their Permanent Location

Once the soil is prepared and the seedlings are hardened off, you’re ready to transplant.

Use a good pair of gardening gloves to keep your hands clean while you work. You’ll also need a small hand shovel.

Using the shovel, loosen the soil to a depth and width that’s twice as big as the container the seedling is currently in. Carefully remove the plant from its previous container and set it down in the soil. Try not to disturb the roots. Fill in around the plant with soil and press it down gently to make sure there aren’t any air pockets in the soil. Water thoroughly with a watering can or a hose with a watering wand attached.

Final Thoughts on How to Transplant Seedlings After Germination

Woman planting tomato seedlings.

With these tips for how to transplant seedlings after germination, your plants are sure to thrive in their new home.

For more information on starting seeds indoors make sure to visit the Seed Starting page on our website. There you’ll find answers to all of your seed starting questions, including how to start different plants, how to care for seedlings as they grow, and much more.