Tips for Transplanting Seedlings

How and When to Transplant Outdoors to The Garden

April 23, 2021
Seedling
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Are you ready for the first big hurdle of the gardening season? Here’s how to make sure that your plant seedlings transplant successfully into the garden.

When we refer to “transplanting,” we mean the act of moving seedlings or small plants from their pots outside into the garden soil. This applies to both:

  • Small starter plants (called “transplants”) purchased at the nursery. Some vegetable are challenging to start from seed (or take too long), so we rely on the nurseries to get them started. Examples are tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers.
  • Young plants started from seed at home. Some gardeners start plants from seed indoors on their own to get a jump start on the season, especially if they live in a northern climate with a short growing season.

Keep in mind that some vegetables (and flowers) are NOT cut out for transplanting or being moved; they are best and most easily sown by seed directly in the ground. See seed-starting preference by plant.

1. When to Transplant

When to transplant depends on the plant. Some plants, such as 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. The temperature of the soil is important, too! 

Check our local Planting Calendar, which lists when to transplant each type of vegetable based on your local frost dates.

Don’t rush it! Earlier isn’t necessarily better and will slow growth rates. Heat-loving plants shouldn’t be outside until nighttime temperatures remain consistently above 60°F (15°C). 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.

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!

2. Prepare the Garden and the Plants

When the weather looks like it’s taking a turn for the better, start getting your garden ready for transplanting into the soil! 

  • Loosen and amend soil. Your garden soil may have become compacted over winter, so loosen and aerate the soil before planting. Remove any rocks or roots of weeds. Work in plenty of organic matter to about a shovel’s depth to help the soil retain moisture, drain well, and allow easy penetration by seedling roots. Read more about preparing soil for planting.  
  • Anything that raises the temperature of the soil will help plants adjust to the shock of the cold ground. Spread black plastic or landscaping fabric across the site to boost soil temperature a couple weeks before planting. See how to warm the soil for spring planting.
  • Avoid walking on the soil by creating paths or boards to stand on. Walking on the soil compacts it, making it more difficult for small roots, water, and air to penetrate. 
  • During the transplants’ last week indoors, withhold fertilizer and water less often to condition them to the harsher outdoor life.
  • Harden-off plants. Any seedlings or start plants that are coming from the indoors to the outdoors must go through a gradual transition or they’ll go through shock. Start by watering the plants thoroughly. Then, 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 eventually living full-time outdoors..  
  • Keep the soil moist at all times during the hardening-off period. Dry air and spring breezes can result in rapid water loss. See our complete guide on hardened off plants.

3. Transplanting Pot to Soil in 10 Steps

If possible, transplant on a warm, overcast day in the early morning. This gives the plants a chance to settle into the soil without being instantly exposed to the intense midday sun.

  1. Check soil moisture. Test to see if your soil is too wet or too dry to dig. Soil should be moist but not soaking wet. Water deeply a day before working the soil. Soil that’s too dry pulls moisture out of plant roots and damages them.
  2. Use a rake to create a smooth and level surface.
  3. Dig a planting hole that’s a little bit bigger than the plant’s rootball and about as deep.
  4. Turn the pot upside down while supporting the soil side with your other hand, being careful not to crush or drop the plant. Tap the bottom of the pot to help the seedling out.
  5. Place the seedling in the planting hole at the same depth that it was growing in the pot. You should be able to cover the seedling with about ¼ inch of soil. Fill in with soil around the rootball.
  6. Gently tamp down the soil around the seedling so there’s good contact between the seedling’s roots and the soil. 
  7. Soak the soil around new seedlings immediately after transplanting in order to settle the roots, eliminate air pockets, and reduce the potential of transplant shock.
  8. A few days after transplanting, give each seedling a cup of a starter fertilizer 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).
  9. If the season or your climate is particularly dry, spread mulch to reduce moisture loss.
  10. 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. 

After you transplant, keep the soil bed moist, never allowing it to dry out. Water gently with a watering can at the soil level (NOT from above). Until the plants are well estalished, water often enough (usually about once a day) so that the soil surface never dries out, but remains constantly moist. 

How to Transplant: Step-by-Step Demonstration

Check out this video to learn how to take your seedlings from potting tray to garden plot, step by step.

Keep on Growing

Now that your young plants are in the ground, learn about their care for the rest of the season! See our library of 100+ plant Growing Guides for planting, growing, and harvesting all of your favorite crops and flowers.

Free Online Gardening Guides

Find more information on planting. Visit our complete Gardening for Everyone hub, where you’ll find a series of guides—all free! From selecting the right gardening spot to choosing the best vegetables to watering the right way, our Almanac gardening experts are excited to teach gardening to everyone.

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Reader Comments

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Transplanting seedlings

My dad taught me that a small "tent" made of leafy twigs helps shade tender seedlings and protect from harsh, drying winds. Leave the twigs in place about a week. Gives them a chance to get adapted to the soil and put their roots in. I use this method for tomato, pepper, sweet potato and other transplants.

Tips for transplanting seeding

Ideally....thin single seedlings from a community pot each separately to a small pot - too large and the soil stays too damp. Then move to a larger pot after the small pot shows roots at the bottom. Some plants are exceptions - if they resent disturbance or are root crops like carrots where the main root needs to be left undisturbed. My max for a seedling is a 4" pot, then usually to ground or final destination. In your case if you are going to have several plants in a Large pot, I would direct sow and thin to desired spacing, unless the large pot needs to be outside and you want to sow inside etc.

What a great post! I’m

What a great post! So many people are dipping their toes into Veg gardening and seed starting pots.

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

Tender transplants

When I set out my cukes, melons, zukes and tomatoes I plant each one inside its own little green house. I take the kitchen catcher garbage bags and slit each one and using some sticks that are as long as the bags , use the sticks to hold the bags around the plants. The tops remain open so that when temperature rises it won't cook the plants. This way works great in areas of winds that are destructive on new plants and can be left on while plants grow and folded down or cut off at a later time.

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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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.

We do offer a growing guide

The Editors's picture

We do offer a growing guide for herbs here: 
http://www.almanac.com/content...
Hope this helps!

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?

There is a Best Dates to

The Editors's picture

There is a Best Dates to Transplant (by Region) chart at www.almanac.com/content/best-p....

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

The Editors's picture

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.