Transplanting Seedlings to Larger Pots

About a month ago I posted on starting seeds indoors.  Seedlings develop quickly and mine will soon have true leaves.  Basically, most seedlings start out looking the same to me with two smooth leaves.  The next sets of leaves to develop are called true leaves and they look more like the leaves of the specific kind of plant.  When your seedlings have reached this stage, it is time to transplant them into a larger pot. My seedlings aren’t quite ready yet this year (in this picture you can see the beginning of their true leaves, but I want until they are fully developed) so I’m using pictures from a couple of years ago to go along with the instructions of what to do next. 

Reasons to transplant:

  • Stimulation of roots and room for the seedling to grow
  • Richer soil (you can use a commercially prepared soil mix for growing vegetables)
  • Selection of the fittest (if you have multiple seedlings growing in the same pot you need to select the strongest one to keep and cut the other one off using scissors.  Note that you should not pull out the weaker one because it may damage the other seedling)

How to transplant:

  1. Prepare the containers, labels and moisten the soil (for tomatoes use anything from a 2 to 6 inch pot) – it is best to have all the supplies you may need on hand so read ahead before you start
  2. Lift out the seedling using a piece of cutlery, a popsicle stick, pencil, screwdriver or similar tool – the trick is you want to be able to lift the seedling while causing the least damage to its roots – if you are going to hold the seedling by its leaves, hold the first (round) ones rather than the true leave (the pointy ones) and be sure to plant one at a time to make sure the roots do not dry out
  3. Replant the seedlings into the larger containers by placing some soil in the pot while holding it at an angle, then while holding the seedling with one hand fill soil around it with the other, when you are done pat the soil down gently so that the seedling has some support but the soil will not have all the air compressed out of it.  With tomatoes only you can plant them as deep as the roots will allow you (make sure they aren’t touching the bottom of the pot or are coiled) and you can actually bury a part of the stem because new roots will grow from the stem, which is especially useful if your seedlings have become really tall.  The stem of the tomato plant will grow roots once buried, but this isn’t the case with other types of plants.
  4. Watch your seedlings and keep them out of light and in a cool place at first.  If there is any sign of wilting and they are already well watered you can set up a “greenhouse” but placing a seedling in a plastic bag to help rebalanced the moisture until they perk back up

After the transplant and a couple days of recovery there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Allow the soil to slightly dry before watering your seedlings, it helps prevent water logging the plants and promotes better root growth – if possible keep watering from below by adding water to the tray rather than pouring water on top of them
  • You may want to consider fertilizing depending on the type of soil you used, but proceed with caution because seedlings can be sensitive (consider mixing fertilizers to half strength)
  • The seedling will need plenty of light (at least 6 hours) – if you are using a window and you notice the seedlings reaching for the light occasionally rotate them
  • If the seedlings are getting really tall really fast this is called getting “leggy” and the stem may be too weak – it may be caused by insufficient light, high temperatures, or crowding of plants – if you notice this problem or others, such as dropping of leaves, leaf curl, or discolouration, check out this great resource available online:

The next stage will be “hardening off” the seedlings, which means gradually taking them outside for longer and longer periods after the last frost (for Toronto it is around May 9th) but before planting them outside permanently or sharing them with your friends and colleages.

How to Start Seeds Indoors

Because our growing season in Toronto is fairly short, many of my favourite vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, onions, and leeks, need an early start. It is easy to start seeds in your own home and I know many people that have had success with little or no experience.
The following post highlights the basic steps for starting seeds indoors. For a more detailed description and answers to any questions you might have check out: The New Seed-Starters Handbook

When to Start Seedlings

Timing is one of the most important considerations when starting seeds indoors. This is often based on the last expected date of frost. In Toronto this is May 9th. Other last frost dates can be found at:
Some plants, like onions, leeks, cauliflower, broccoli and cabbages can be started inside as early as February. Others plants, like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, should be started by the end of March or early April. Finally, there are a number of plants that do well in our short growing season, like beans, peas, beets, and greens, which can be planted directly into the ground once the snow melts and temperatures rise.

What you will need:
- Seeds
- A potting soil mix
- Containers (a few inches deep and with bottom drainage)
- Water
- A south facing window (or a “grow-light”)
- Newspapers (for easy clean up)
- Labels (to remember what you planted)
- A bit of time

Steps to Starting Seeds:

1. Prepare the seeds if necessary (for example some may require pre-soaking – check the specific information for the type of plants you are growing before you start)
2. Gather the equipment (containers, soil, newspapers, labels, markers)
3. Prepare the work space (make sure you have room and spread newspapers to gather the dirt for easy clean up)
4. Review seeds and prepare labels for each to prevent later confusion
5. Prepare the containers by putting a layer of newspaper on the bottom if the drainage holes are large; this will prevent soil loss from the bottom of the container
6. Moisten the soil in a separate container – do not water log the soil since this may promote mold growth or cause the seeds to rot
7. Fill the containers loosely with the moist soil – do not pack the soil tightly
8. Plant the seeds: first spread them on the soil the appropriate distance apart and then cover the seeds with the appropriate depth of soil (this will vary according to plant type)
9. Cover the container – it does not have to be airtight and seeds do not need light to germinate (but watch for mold, which can be remedied with greater ventilation).
10. Place the seeds in a warm place to await germination.


Basically this is the sprouting phase for the seeds which can be anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. Factors that influence germination include:
- The condition of the seeds and the type of plant
- The presence of water (keep moist but careful of drowning and if possible water by filling a tray underneath the container with water rather than pouring water on top)
- Sufficient air (which is why seeds need to be planting shallowly and the soil should not be packed too tightly)
- Temperature (germination requires warmth, usually 24-32oC)
- Light usually doesn’t matter for vegetable seeds but may for flowers
- Soil conditions (do not need much if any fertilization because it may slow germination)
What you should do:
- Check the seeds containers at least once a day
- Ensure that the soil is moist by not soggy
- Provide regular intervals of air (i.e. uncover the containers for a couple of hours especially if mould develops)

What Seedlings Need:
Once the seedlings start to appear their requirements start to change.
- Light – as soon as they germinate they will require light, either artificial or natural (6 hours minimum)
- Temperature – they do not need to be as warm as they did for germination, often slightly cooler than room temperature is ideal
- Space – soon after the leaves unfold the seedlings will require more space (so that they are not competing for light, moisture, or nutrients) and it is at this point some seedlings will be thinned out by cutting them off with scissors (uprooting them may damage the roots of the remaining seedlings).
- Soil – the seedling will quickly use up the nutrients in the container, which is one of the reasons that seedlings grown indoors often need to be transplanted to a larger container with more nutrient rich soil

Vegging Out in the City

Katie @ Maloca Community Garden

The warm spring this year has my green thumb itching to plant something. Growing (at least a part) of my own food has been a seasonal ritual for most of my life. I grew up in rural Nova Scotia where my family had two gardens, one that was a general vegetable garden and one called “the patato garden” (which is where we grew a year-supply of potatoes and winter beans). I got away from gardening the first few years that I lived in Ontario and moved between a few cities. But once Jim and I settled in Toronto and we recieved a gift of tomato seeds I began to discover there are a variety of ways for urbanites to grow food.

So now that spring seems to have sprung I thought I’d share a few of the options that you might find in your city if you want to try flexing your own green thumb.

Container Gardening:

As the name implies this is gardening in containers. As long as you have a small corner of outside (balcony, front steps, etc.), a receptical with some drainage, some decent quality potting soil and a willingness to water regularly, it is an easy way to plant a garden when you don’t have a backyard.

Pros: close to home, does not require much space, fairly easy to maintain

Cons: some start-up costs, need to regularly water and feed (i.e. add compost to) your plants, low odds of meeting other gardeners

Allotment Gardening:

Allotment gardens are usually administered by a local government and involve renting a plot of land for a fee. There is usually a set of rules to follow to make sure you stay on good terms with other gardeners.

Pros: the plot is yours to plant what you want, you get to meet fellow gardeners (if they are there at the same time as you)

Cons: costs associated with rental fee and tools, often there are waiting lists to get a plot, not many community oriented events

Community Gardening:

A garden that is initiated and administered by the community. There are a lot of different models out there including having plots for individuals and families, having a communal garden or growing the food for a food bank or other community organization.

Pros: a great learning atmosphere for new garderners, growing community as you grow food, usually lower membership fees (that cover the cost of shared tools)

Cons: time consuming to be one of the garden organizers, local governments can have a long process to set up new ones on public lands

Backyard Sharing:

Do you want to garden but don’t have your own backyard? Do you have a backyard that you aren’t using and would like to see as a veggie garden? Maybe you are lucky enough to know somebody that can help – but if not you can now find your match – online!

Pros: you can search for a match and share your expectations online, you get to meet a neighbour and get to know your community better

Cons: you have to be willing to negotiate and perhaps comprise to garden, unless there is a garden-tool lending library nearby it might cost you to get started

A Few Enterprising Opportunities: Growing food in the city is usually done more for recreational reasons than to make money (many of the options above don’t produce enough food or there are rules against selling the food). But there are a few entrepreneurs out there turning urban food growing into a way to make money. One is a service to plant and tend backyard vegetable gardens for people too busy to plant their own (Young Urban Farmers). Another is SPIN (Small Plot INtensive) Farming where a farmer will grow high value crops in other people’s backyards, usually in exchange for some harvest or a rental fee.

This year, I’ll be doing a mix of container gardening and backyard sharing. I’ve already started my tomato and basil seedlings.some that will go to my back deck, some in my friends’ new backyard and share the remainders with friends and co-workers. Is anyone else planting an urban garden or know other ways to grow food in the city?