Transplanting Precious Tomato Seedlings Into Bigger Containers

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May 8, 2019

A successful crop of tomato plants is something that brings great joy to many gardeners. Time, effort, and a whole lot of TLC is usually rewarded with a bountiful yield. There’s nothing better than a tomato fresh off the vine, walked just a few steps from the garden to the kitchen.

When growing tomatoes from seed, gardeners get to enjoy the experience from beginning to end. There are a few extra steps associated with starting plants from seed, and transplanting into bigger pots is one of them!

Why Transplant?

Tomato seedlings may need to be moved to bigger homes a few times throughout their various growth stages. This is especially true when container gardening or if you live in an agricultural zone where it is still too cold to put the plants into the ground.

Tomato plants are unique in the way that the tiny hairs on their stems, called trichomes, can be buried deeper into the soil during the transplant process to form new roots. So, allowing them to graduate to bigger homes promotes stronger root growth; the taproot can have a growth rate of one inch per day!  

When To Transplant

Tomato seedlings are ready for an upgrade once their first set of true leaves form and they are about 6-10 inches tall. The first time you move them, a single tomato plant can be happy in something as small as a 4 inch peat pot. Eventually, you may move up in size to a one-gallon container.

Preparing For Transplant

Ready to transplant

If many seeds have germinated in a single pot, you’ll need to thin them out. While it’s a painful process for most, know that tomatoes will always do better when they don’t have to compete with another plant for nutrients. Choose the seedling that looks to be the healthiest and snip the others at the soil line. This way, you won’t risk damaging the root system of the remaining plant.

If you choose not to sacrifice any plants at all, carefully unravel the roots during the first transplant. There’s always a risk associated with doing this, but if you gently tug at the plants, they can come apart nicely.

It’s also a good idea to pinch off the first set of leaves on the plant, at the very bottom of the stem. These are not considered to be “true” leaves, and getting rid of them will promote thicker stems and better leaf growth.

pinch the first set of leaves

Make sure you have your bigger, clean pots ready to go; bio-degradable containers are always a great choice!

How To Transplant

  1. Begin by thoroughly watering the tomato seedlings in their original pots. Moist soil and roots will help the plants get through the process and make your life a little easier too.

  2. Add a little bit of soil mixed with compost into the bottom of the new pot. Remember; the idea is to cover the stem hairs each time you transplant to promote better root growth. Covering them by several inches is ok.

  3. When handling, carefully hold the tomato plant by its leaves or root ball; never the stem! It will not be able to repair damage to the stem, but growing new leaves is very doable. Place it into the middle of the container and fill with soil, making sure not to cover any of its true leaves.
    all done transplanting the tomatoes

After Transplant Care

It’s normal for tomato seedlings to go into a little bit of shock after being moved to a bigger pot. Water again and place them in a sunny location or under some grow lights, and they will bounce right back.

Consider another transplant once the plant is about three times the height of its container.

Happy gardening!

Catherine Sherriffs
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Catherine Sherriffs

Catherine is a Canadian award-winning journalist who worked as a reporter and news anchor in Montreal’s radio and television scene for 10 years. A graduate of Concordia University, she left the hustle and bustle of the business after starting a family. Now, she’s the editor and a writer for Garden Culture Magazine while also enjoying being a mom to her two young kids. Her interests include great food, gardening, fitness, animals, and anything outdoors.
Catherine Sherriffs
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