Seed to Garden Step 3: Divide & Conquer


At roughly about three weeks into the indoor starter stage, my seedlings are growing well but some need more attention than just watering and rotating pots.

Since several seeds were planted in each small pot to make sure some did sprout, too many seedlings now create an overcrowded situation.  They need to be divided so each seedling has room to grow.

Too many seedlings in a 4″ pot could mean there will not be enough nutrients from the soil to feed and nurture 4 or 6 plants.   When it comes to tomatoes, these seedlings need room to spread and grow, and how many I leave in each pot depends on the size of that pot. I might transplant one seedling per pot, or couple them in larger pots.

Seedlings generally do not like being handled too much, so gentle is the byword here.  Try not to disturb the other ones in the pot when you gently remove one or two to transplant to a larger pot. Use a small tool or even a spoon, to loosen the soil, before pulling up on the seedling.

Sometimes, I weed out the stragglers and wimpy seedlings, leaving only one or two in a 4″ pot.  I’ve often found that two seedlings planted together can be successful since they seem to lean on each other, as long as the pot is large enough for them.

When transplanting small seedlings, this is a good time to plant some right in a patio tub if this will be their final destination (rather than the garden), to minimize handling.  Always plant the small seedlings deep in the pots, to help them grow sturdy stalks. And larger pots are best, otherwise plants can quickly become root bound or hindered from growing properly.  Cherry tomatoes, herbs and bush cucumbers usually do very well in a patio planter or tub.

You can use plastic containers, recycled tetra boxes or reusable garden store pots from bedding plants you bought last year. But make sure there are drainage holes in the pots. I tend to use a combination of things for pots and I also recycle trays and small pots that I’ve collected from garden center purchases.

This is especially important with tomato seedlings. Make sure to water newly transplanted seedlings and expect them to look a little weepy until they settle back into their new surroundings. I usually also add a little more soil to the older pots.

Flower seedlings that I’ve started in peat pellets are usually weeded to allow one or two plants, discarding the weaker ones.  Peat pellets will be planted intact into the flower beds, when the danger of frost has passed.

Do not be surprised if some of your starter flowers did not sprout.  Seeds vary in germinating time and some perennial flowers take longer than others.  Some flowers though not impossible to start indoors, do not grow well and often do better planted outdoors in the garden beds. After three weeks, some flowers have not sprouted and are discarded.  This is not unusual, especially with perennials.

Vegetable seeds that sprout quickly are cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini and cantaloupe.  Peppers tend to take a few days longer. These can all be started indoors. Others such as string beans and radishes sprout very quickly and are best planted as seeds in the garden along with other vegetables including lettuce, swiss chard, potatoes.

If you can afford the cost of vegetable and flower seedlings from a garden center, it does save a lot of time and monitoring. But starting seeds indoors gives you a sense of accomplishment and it’s a great teaching tool for the children. It will also save you a few dollars and often, that personal touch results in stronger, healthier plants.

Now it’s back to regular TLC – watering as needed, rotating pots so plants grow straight as they consume sunshine that beams in through the patio doors.  Soon they will be able to spend a little time outdoors each day to harden up and get ready for the garden.  That will be Step 4, but it needs to be at least 70ºF and not windy for these tender plants to go outdoors.
Check Prices of Plant Pots

This entry was posted in Gardening Tips, General, Home & Garden and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.