What Are the Best Tips for Potting Seedlings?

Britt Archer

Gardeners are often anxious to get their hands in the soil after a long winter, especially when they spy the new plants and seedlings on display at garden centers. The sight of all that green can make them feel like the first breath of spring is just around the corner, leading them to purchase seedlings that the ground or the weather isn’t ready for yet. There are tips for potting seedlings that will help the young plants thrive until the right conditions emerge, and sometimes all it takes is the repotting of a root-bound, crowded or struggling seedling into a slightly larger pot to give it room to survive until it can be planted properly in the ground. In all instances, a gardener should handle the seedlings from the bottom and not at the tip of the seedlings or at their stems to avoid damage. The seedlings should be watered thoroughly but gently once the seedlings are in their pots, and the soil patted gently to remove pockets of air.

Seedlings must be potted until the ground is ready for planting.
Seedlings must be potted until the ground is ready for planting.

Many gardeners feel the temptation to leave seedlings in the flats they were purchased in, and sometimes that’s all right for a short period. Often, however, a mistake is made in thinking these containers will suffice and do no harm to the young plants for longer periods. Potting seedlings into larger containers when necessary, or directly into the garden, is an optimum choice. Putting off transplanting seedlings can stunt their growth and even make them die off. When caring for seedlings, a little bit of work early on will pay off later in the growing season. Potting seedlings is best achieved with a soil mix that is labeled specifically for seedlings. These mixes are formulated to provide more nourishment to the growing seedlings than other soil mixtures, especially mixtures marketed for seeds.

Some people prefer to substitute a soilless mix for potting seedlings, including vegetable seedlings. This type of growing medium contains no soil, as the name implies, and instead is composed of different types of materials. The advantage in using this mixture when potting seedlings is that it helps prevent the presence of disease-causing organisms that may be present in soil. Even commercial soil mixtures that have undergone a sterilization process can still be detrimental when potting seedlings, not because of disease issues but because they may be too dense for young root structures, depriving them of an adequate amount of air, which they need to prevent rot.

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