How to Transplant Tomato Seedlings is the second installment in our new gardening series. To see part one, How to Grow Tomatoes from Seed, click HERE.
It’s been 4 weeks since I planted my tomato seeds and they are looking awesome! Other than a slight magnesium deficiency (that’s why the leaves are purple on the bottom), I haven’t had any other issues whatsoever!
To correct the purple stem and leaves, I simply added 1/2 tablespoon of magnesium sulfate (aka Epsom salt) to my gallon-sized jug of fertilizer water. This fixed the deficiency in a matter of days and they are now vibrant and green!
I’ve been fertilizing with 20-20-20 at half strength since the tomato seedlings were about 3 weeks old. They’ve grown beautifully and so now it’s time to transplant them into larger pots.
Why You Should Transplant Tomato Seedlings
(more than once or twice!)
Each time you transplant your tomato seedlings, they are to be buried a little bit deeper in the new pot. This allows the plant to develop a strong support system since roots will grow all along the stem!
Once your tomato seedlings are 3 times the height of their cups, or have at least 3 pairs of leaves, it’s time to transplant them into something larger.
You can also see that they are a bit crowded also so that’s another reason why I want to get them into something a tad bit bigger. Your second set of pots should be 3-4″ tall.
When the weather warms up a bit I’ll be able to transplant the tomato seedlings into something even larger since they will sit outside during the day. This is called hardening off.
But First, Paint-Dipped Plant Labels
I had to make new plant labels since I originally double planted all of my tomatoes. I wrote down what each color represents in my plant journal for future reference. I found this to be SO much easier than trying to write the names and dates on an itty bitty stick! (This is the same paint from Oriental Trading Co. that I used in my Homemade Chalk Paint recipe.)
The Potting Mix I Use When I Transplant Tomato Seedlings
For the soil, I use a blend of plain ol’ potting mix with vegetable compost at a ratio of 75/25. The potting soil is from Southern States and has plenty of organic matter that will break down to provide nutrients for the plants. The compost is by EcoScraps and is made completely from food scraps. Normally I wouldn’t buy something so expensive but I got it on clearance since the bag was torn.
After mixing my soil, I decided it needed to be lightened up just a bit so I added some perlite. The kind I use is made by Lambert and I found it at Southern States as well. It is FAR superior to Miracle Grow’s dusty perlite. As a matter of fact, I have stopped using Miracle Grow altogether. (A quick search online and you’ll see why. Their products are absolute garbage – literally.)
Moisten the soil and it’s ready to be used to transplant tomato seedlings!
How to Transplant Tomato Seedlings from a Cell Pack
Begin by loosening the root area of one of the cells then gently lift the tomatoes. Try not to pull on the stems AT ALL – just use them long enough until you can get a grasp of the root ball. As you can see, the roots look great and are also another sign that they are ready to come out of this container.
If you’ve allowed 2 plants to grow in the same cell, gently roll the root ball between the palm of your hands to loosen the soil. *I forgot to mention, it’s best to do this when the seedling soil is just barely moistened* Tap the bottom of the root ball with your fingers to release enough soil which will allow you to gently pull the two seedlings apart. If you’re careful, you won’t tear any roots. Oh, and try not to hold the seedlings by the stem!
Next, add a little bit of soil to your sterile container before placing the tomato seedling inside. Pinch off the two lower leaves if they are going to be covered with soil.
(Scroll to the bottom for tips on how to sterilize old containers.)
Fill in the rest of the pot with soil, situating the tomato seedling in the middle, and add your plant marker. Water thoroughly now and then again only after the top 1-2 inches are dry.
A day after I transplanted the tomatoes into the small brown cups, I realized they would be better suited for my peppers so I moved the tomatoes to these clear plastic cups. (I have used the brown ones in the past for tomatoes, but I think these clear cups will work better since so much more of the stem will be covered with soil.) I even popped drainage holes in the bottom with a metal straw that I heated with my kitchen torch.
Like I mentioned before, just keep these little guys watered and fertilized (at half strength), give them plenty of light and before long they’ll be on their way to the garden!
In case you missed part one:
Quick Tip: How to Sterilize Old Seedling Pots
To sterilize a previously used container, wash it with warm, soapy water then let them soak in a mixture of water and bleach – 10 parts water to 1 part bleach – for about 15 minutes.