Tips for Transplanting Seedlings

How and When to Transplant to The Garden

March 18, 2019
Seedling
Pixabay

Are you ready for the first big hurdle of the gardening season? Here’s how to make sure that your seedlings transplant successfully into the garden.

To Seed or Not To Seed

Many home gardeners prefer to start their gardens from nursery-grown transplants rather than from seed. In some respects, this allows for greater flexibility, as you can simply go out and buy the transplants when you’re ready. The downside of this method is that your garden is limited to the varieties available near you, so there may be less overall variety in the plants that you can grow. 

On the other hand, starting plants from seed indoors can be a challenge! If you aren’t able to provide them with proper lighting and moisture, they may not be strong enough to survive the move to outdoors. One benefit of starting from seed is that it’s usually cheaper to buy a packet of seeds than it is to buy transplants, and the unused seeds will likely last you two or three seasons. 

Whichever technique you choose, you’ll eventually need to transplant your young plants into the garden. Here are some tips for doing so!

Tips for Transplanting

1. Plan Ahead

Timing is important when it comes to transplanting: transplant too early in spring and your plants may succumb to frost, transplant too late and your plants may get baked in the sun (and the opposite is true in autumn). In any case, it’s important to pay attention to local weather conditions. 

  • First, check our Planting Calendar to see spring frost dates in your area. The date of the last spring frost is commonly used as a guideline for both starting seeds and planting transplants outdoors.
  • Know what conditions your plants grow best in. Some plants, such as peas and spinach, are cool-season crops, which means that they should be planted before outdoor temperatures get too warm. Others, like tomatoes and peppers, are warm-season crops and will be weakened by too-cool temperatures. Find advice for individual plants in our Growing Guides.
  • If you start your plants from seed, it’s a good idea to keep track of when you start them and when you transplant them. This will help you plan in future years!
  • Keep an eye on local weather forecasts as you prepare for transplanting. If a serious cold snap is imminent, hold off on transplanting until temperatures are more agreeable.

2. Prepare the Garden and the Plants

When the weather looks like it’s taking a turn for the better, start getting your garden and the plants ready:

  • During the transplants’ last week indoors, withhold fertilizer and water less often to condition them to life outdoors.
  • Before being planted into the garden, transplants should be hardened off outdoors in a sheltered area: 
    • 7 to 10 days before transplanting, set the seedlings outdoors in dappled shade that is protected from wind for a few hours each day, gradually increasing their exposure to full sun and windy conditions. This will get them better accustomed to the outdoors.
    • Keep the soil moist at all times during the hardening-off period. Dry air and spring breezes can result in rapid water loss.
  • Anything that raises the temperature of the soil will help plants adjust to the shock of the cold ground. Try using raised planting beds and plastic mulch to boost soil temperature before planting.
  • Your garden soil may have become compacted over winter, so loosen and aerate the soil before planting. Add fresh soil if necessary; it should capture and retain moisture, drain well, and allow easy penetration by seedling roots. Read more about preparing soil for planting.

3. Plant Outdoors

Finally, it’s time to transplant! 

  • If possible, transplant on an overcast day and in the early morning. This gives the plants a chance to settle into the soil without being instantly exposed to the intense midday sun.
  • Soak the soil around new seedlings immediately after transplanting.
  • If the season is particularly dry, spread mulch to reduce moisture loss.
  • To ensure that phosphorus—which promotes strong root development—is available in the root zone of new transplants, mix two tablespoons of a 15-30-15 starter fertilizer into a gallon of water (one tablespoon for vining crops such as melons and cucumbers), and give each seedling a cup of the solution a few days after transplanting.
  • Watch the forecast for late spring frosts and plan to protect your plants accordingly. Cloches, cold frames, or sheets can be used to protect plants. Be sure to remove protective coverings in the morning. 

What tips do you have for transplanting seedlings? Let us know in the comments!

Learn More

Looking to grow a certain vegetable, fruit, or flower? Check out our collection of Growing Guides for plant-specific advice.

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Down with Molly Coddling seeds!

Best pumpkins and squash we ever had came when the seeds hadn't germinated in their little pots, so in disgust I took them out to an area we call No Man's Land and just dumped the lot. Seeds and dirt just helter skelter. Guess what germinated, grew like mad, and gave us so much produce we set boxes along the road with "Free" signs posted. Lots of fun, so -- I happily agree with Jeff. No Molly coddling!

Seedlings

I have gone through all this trouble several times ...however ,what I have found is that I get great results from sowing directly in the ground,after all farmers do this and don't Molly coddle ...just get to it...key is soil prep, weed eradication and I sieve my soil in small beds after adding manure. I water to keep uniformly moist (crucial) I start very early ...in Georgia Piedmont zones7-8 ground rarely freezes so one can soil prep in January and plant mid March

I bought the 2015 Almanac. I

I bought the 2015 Almanac. I want to grow an indoor lemon tree, I have good seeds. I also want to grow an indoor Avocado tree. I see schedules for veggies, not citrus or avocado. Am I correct that the next above ground time will be approx the 13th-16th?

The best days to plant

The Editors's picture

The best days to plant above-ground crops is in "the light of the Moon", between a new and a full Moon. The Moon will be full on Sept. 27. You can plant the seeds any time before the full Moon date. The very best days are Sept. 16-18.

In the best days to plant

In the best days to plant calendar, is this to plant the seeds or actual seedling plants? We plant mostly seeds so I wasn't sure how to apply these dates. Thanks.

The planting by the Moon

The Editors's picture

The planting by the Moon calendar is for planting outside. If you have started seeds indoors move the seedlings outside on these dates. If you sow the seeds directly in the ground use these dates to plant the seeds.
almanac.com/content/planting-moons-phase-gardening-calendar
 

Is it alright to plant

Is it alright to plant jalapeno & serrano hot pepper seedlings in pots to be kept outdoors rather than beds? I only find guidelines for mild peppers & habaneros.

You certainly can! Be careful

You certainly can! Be careful when handling the peppers--wear disposable gloves. Serranos may grow 2 to 5 feet tall; jalapenos, about 2 to 3 feet, so use an appropriate container for your variety. You might consider 5- to 7-gallon pots.

Good Morning, This is my

Good Morning,
This is my first time planting seeds indoors, I planted Zinias and Flox in a peat mixture. Currently they are being kept in my laundry room, the area is warm and provides indirect sunlight. The majority of my plants have sprouted and range in height from 1-3 inches. I see that they are straining towards the sunlight. Would it be premature to place the seedlings in an area of direct sunlight? Any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!
Amy Erfort

Hi Amy, The seedlings need as

Hi Amy,
The seedlings need as much light as they can get. Move them to a sunny spot and turn the seed tray so that they get equal amounts of sunlight on all sides. When the seedlings get bigger transplant them into bigger pots.

All the information I have

All the information I have found is great for vegetables, is there a table like the vegetable table for herbs? I'd like to get a jump start on production and want to know how early to start.

The seedlings I started

The seedlings I started inside are very small (3 to 4 inches). The ones in the store are much bigger. Should I continue with mine, or buy new ones?

New to site and tad confused.

New to site and tad confused. If I start my seeds indoors by the moon favorable dates for indoors when do I transplant them outside?

what are the best days to

what are the best days to transplant seedling trees in the fall

Fall and spring are good

The Editors's picture

Fall and spring are good times to plant trees. If you are looking to plant according to the Moon, the best time is after the Moon is full and before it is new again.

I have been following your

I have been following your chart of moon favorable dates for starting seeds indoors. Do you have a chart that tells me when (Moon favorable dates) to set the seedlings in the outdoor garden beds? Thanks.

How late can you start pepper

How late can you start pepper and tomato seeds in the house? i was hoping i could start them in April as we have been having light frost the last few days.

You can start peppers indoors

You can start peppers indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the last spring frost and tomatoes 6 to 8 weeks before. If you look at our Starting Seeds Indoors page, you can use our frost chart (it's linked on the right side under the picture) to figure out when your last frost date is and then see if it's still ok to start to your seeds indoors.
You can also use our Vegetable Growing Guide  to help you get started.
Hope this helps!

You are probably thinking of

You are probably thinking of the "planting by the moon" chart, it tells you the best time to plant above ground and underground crops according to moon phases. Happy gardening!

I'm looking for the page with

I'm looking for the page with the dates of do's and don'ts for planting and other things. I saw it March 4, 2010 and can't find it again. One thing it meantioned was plant underground harvest on the 4th and 5th, but not the 6th and 7th. (I think). can you direct me to that page again? thank you. ie

See the "planting by the

See the "planting by the moon" chart on this sight.