Transplanting Tomato Seedlings

not the most attractive seedlings in the world... :)

The gist of how I transplant seedlings:

  • Dig a hole.
  • Put in a plant.
  • Cover with dirt.
  • Water.
  • Cross my fingers and hope they don’t die.

This year I’m crossing them especially hard because they weren’t super huge and hardy to start with.

Come on, little plants! You can do it!

But here’s the low-down on my tomato-planting process.

Cover area with mulch of choice.

Since we have pine trees,  I used pine needles. You could use straw, grass clippings, leaves, or any other mulch you have available.

If you cover the area before planting, you’ll get more even coverage than if you try to mulch around existing plants. (i.e., fewer weeds will grow.)

Mark the spots where you want to plant.

Just push the mulch aside and leave a space where you can get at the dirt. Super easy.

Dig a hole.

[Insert picture of hole here.

I took one, but you can’t tell it’s a hole.]

No surprises there, right? Actually, I planted most of mine using the trench method. (Sandy has lovely garden and produce pictures on her blog, by the way. I’m always inspired by them!) If you bury most of the stem, it will send out more roots. Then your plant will be sturdier and more productive. I think my spindly little seedlings need all the roots they can get!

Loosen some dirt at the bottom of your hole/trench. This will make it easier for the fragile roots to establish themselves.

Get your seedling.

Since a lot of mine were two-to-a-peat-pot,  I had to separate them before planting. (By the way, I highly recommend peat pots. I do not recommend planting more than one seedling to a peat pot. It just makes everything harder.)

Regardless of how many seedlings are in your peat pot, you probably should rip the pot a little to let the roots get out. Tear out the bottom (throw the pieces in the hole), and make a small tear in the sides. This will allow the pot to decompose faster and will let the roots reach out to the dirt and nutrients more easily.

Put your seedling into the trench.

Contrary to all gardener intuition, I laid them on their sides, and covered their stems all the way up to the leaves with dirt.

Doesn’t it look so pitiful like that? (But, and I kid you not, the very next day they were all standing upright. Those little plants are amazing!)

Pat the dirt down gently.

You want the dirt to be in contact with all the roots and stem and stuff. If there are air pockets, bad things can happen (or so I have read). Don’t pack it down like you’re putting brown sugar into a measuring cup or anything, but make sure it’s solid.

Install your support system of choice.

This year I am doing a mixture of wimpy cages and bamboo stakes.

(Excuse me while I rant: those cages that we bought at Lowe’s for a whole stinkin’ TWO DOLLARS each are the flimsiest piece of garden equipment I have ever seen. Even my bamboo stakes are better quality than those. And I paid two bucks apiece?!?! Surely with that kind of a budget the manufacturer could have come up with a better plan. Thank you, rant is now complete.)

The support system needs to be installed as soon after planting as possible so that a sharp point doesn’t pierce the rootball and cause hardship for the plant.

Last year we tried an innovative method that involved bamboo stakes, cotton twine, and the fence. Let me tell you: tomatoes need more than a little string to hold them up. Each plant needs its own support system.

So this year I have 10 cages and two stakes. I had to improvise for my other four plants.

I searched around in our yard and the woods behind our house and found two nice, long, straight dogwood branches that had fallen down. Those will be fine to use as stakes, I think.

For the other two, I just found some pine branches (not too sturdy) and stuck them into the ground. When I get to Home Depot next time, I’ll pick up another package of the bamboo stakes (very inexpensive!) and replace the pine branches with the bamboo stakes. Hopefully that will work! :)

And so the tomato transplanting process is complete. Now comes the crossing my fingers part.

So far, so good!

Do you start your garden plants from seed? I’d love to know your best seed-starting tip!

(Linked to Frugal Gardening 101, a great resource for newbie gardeners!)

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