Gardening 101: Transplanting Seedlings Outside

Apr 15, 2015
*Part 3 of 5 of my Gardening 101 series.*

Welcome to part 3 of my Gardening 101 series. Today we're going to talk about transplanting your seedlings outside.

You've cared for your young seedlings for about 6 weeks now, and they have flourished under your care. They are now ready for the garden, but your not quite sure how to take that next step. It's not difficult, and before you know it your plants will be happily growing in their new home.

Transplanting you seedlings: A general rule of thumb is that when a seedling has three to four true leaves, it is large enough to plant out in the garden, after it has been hardened off. Depending on what type of container you planted your seedlings in, you may need to transplant them to a bigger pot before they are ready for the garden. I always use recycled plastic cups such as yogurt or cottage cheese containers, or even large styrofoam cups. So I almost never have to transplant them, until they are actually ready for the garden. If you do though, you'll want to do so carefully, so as not to damage the stem or roots. Make sure your container has drainage holes, and fill it 3/4 full with an organic potting soil. Gently squeeze your seedling pot to loosen the dirt, spread your fingers over the top of the pot, with the seedling coming up between your second and third finger, and carefully tilt the pot upside down to release the seedling into your hand. Again, carefully place the seedling into the new pot, and add more potting soil around it to hold it upright. Mix some organic fertilizer with water and pour it into your holding container, continuing the watering from the bottom up method. (Tomato seedlings should be planted with the dirt almost up to the bottom of it's first true leaves. This will encourage strong root growth. Just make sure there are no leaves buried in the soil)

Harden off your plants: Seedlings need to harden off, or adjust to being outside, before they can be transplanted into your garden. When plants are grown from seed indoors, the temperature is maintained, the light is not as strong as full sunlight outside, and there are no environmental issues like wind or rain. So your seedlings are pretty defenseless, and aren't able to deal with those things yet. Hardening off is basically just gradually introducing your plants to outside conditions. The easiest way to do this is to begin reducing the amount of water you give your plants, giving them just enough to keep from wilting. Place your plants into a cardboard box or similar container, and place them outside in a sheltered, shaded area. Leave them there for a few hours, then bring them back in before evening. Repeat this process over the next few days, leaving the box in its sheltered, shaded spot for a little longer each day. Once the box is staying outside for the entire day, start the process of moving the box to a sunny area. Repeat the same process, increasing the hours each day, until the plants are in the sun all day. Make sure to bring the plants back in every night. The whole process should take about 8 days.

Planting your seedlings in the garden: Water your plants lightly, then take them out to your garden. Dig a hole twice as wide as the pot and as deep as the transplant is in the pot for each seedling. Carefully remove the plant from the pot by turning the pot upside down, holding your hand over the soil surface and your fingers around the seedling. Gently tap the bottom of the pot so the root ball slides out into your hand. You may have to gently squeeze the pot a little if the seedling doesn’t want to come out. Place the plant in the hole and fill it in with garden soil, until the entire root ball is covered. Make sure the plant is buried at the same depth it was in the seedling pot. Don't forget that tomatoes are the exception to this rule. You want to plant them deeper in the soil because they'll form roots along their stem, as deep as it is planted, which makes for a sturdier plant. Gently pat the soil down around the plant and water it well, enough to saturate the soil. Make sure to add a good, organic general-purpose fertilizer to that first watering.

Don't miss next weeks installment where we will discuss caring for your garden.

Gardening 101 Series:

Part 1 - Spring Gardening Season is Here!
Part 2 - Starting Seeds Indoors
Part 3 - Transplanting Seedlings Outside
Part 4 - Caring For Your Garden
Part 5 - After The Harvest


  1. Thank you for sharing a wonderful post, which I must admit, I need to read through thoroughly {and am looking forward to start at part 1}

    1. Thank you Linda :) Gardening can seem daunting, but when you break it down into steps like I did in this series, it becomes a lot more doable.

  2. What a lovely post and wish I had the gardening gene! Thanks for sharing today!

    1. I wasn't born with a gardening gene either Joanne. In fact, I used to joke that I had a black thumb instead of a green one! :) Just take baby steps, even growing fresh herbs in your kitchen windowsill is considered gardening, and you'll be a pro in no time.


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