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Transplanting / potting-up tomato seedlings: What's your method?

I'm happy to say that the seeds that we got last year from Baker Creek have germinated! We're looking at five fledgling white tomato plants right now, and I'm filled with trepidation:

Fear of "damping off"

Fear they're getting too leggy

Fear of snapping their little necks!

So... my question for y'all is this: Now that the true leaves are showing and we have a seemingly viable tomato plant, what is your method for gently and safely transplanting these tender young shoots to larger growing vessels?

Do you use a spoon or small spade to scoop out the whole cell of starting mix and plant, then cover it with more starting mix?

Do you reach in and pinch the tiny root ball, keeping only a bit of soil on the plant, then insert it into more soil?

This video from YellowTree Farm got me wondering...

Time-lapse tomatoes from YellowTree_Farm on Vimeo.

Can you describe what method works best for you?

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This question was posed to the HOMEGROWN.org Facebook community and it resulted in some very helpful answers!

Leanne Whitaker I start my seedlings in Jiffy pots. It makes it so much easier to transplant! I just peel off the mesh layer -- the inside almost always stays intact -- and plant the whole thing into a larger pot. No root disturbance and they start taking off right away.

Noelle Landauer

I start mine in 2" cells, so they don't need to be transplanted until the 4-8 leaf stage. I use a fork to loosen the sides and pop the soil ball out, loosen the roots a little bit if it's getting a bit pot-bound, and plop into the bottom of the new pot. Fill with fresh soil, burying the stem to just below the the true leaves. The plant will send out new roots from the buried stem, giving you a bigger rootball.

With tomatoes, it's OK if the roots get disturbed a little bit. The transplanting process breaks off the taproot and forces the plant to have a more fibrous root structure that spreads out laterally from the plant. This is advantageous in a irrigated situation, as most of the water (and probably nutrients) are in the first few inches of the soil. That's why professional tomato growers use starts, even in areas like Florida where the growing season is long enough to direct seed them.

Wednesday at 12:33pm

I've been using Peat Pellets this season and they are SO EASY to use and almost mess-free.


There is no root disturbance when transplanting!

This is a terrific post, Marianne. Thanks. Mess-free is a compelling reason to use them.

I especially love that you planted more seeds than you know you'll need plants -- just in case some fail, but also in order to pass along seedlings as gifts. I love doing that!

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