Spring Gardening Seed Starting Part 2

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
If you followed last week’s advice, you should soon be seeing tiny seedlings emerge. Almost all seedlings will be weak and spindly for the first couple of days but they should quickly evolve as the cotyledons fall away and the first true leaves open up. When this first set of leaves is fully open, it is time to transplant the seedlings into their own container.

Begin by preparing the growing container. A good quality potting soil works well for a growing medium. The containers should be relatively small-the classic “6-pack” size works very well. One common mistake gardeners make is to transplant directly into a container that is too large for the seedling. This can lead to poor water management and the seedling succumbing to disease. It is fair to say that more seedlings die from too much moisture more often than not enough.

Fill the container with potting soil and moisten it thoroughly and gather transplanting supplies. You’ll need a pencil-that’s it! Create a hole for the seedling root in the soil. Gently grasp a leaf of the seedling and pull gently as you tease the root from the potting mix. Grasping the seedling by the stem is another common error; it’s just too easy crushed to attempt this. Transfer the seedling into the new hole with the planting depth as close to the original depth as possible and cover the roots with potting soil.

The new transplants may need a little help or adjustment after the first watering or two to make sure they remain upright. The transplants will communicate quite clearly about how they feel about the available light. If they stretch towards the light source, increase the intensity (if artificial) or rotate the plants regularly so that they will grow relatively straight. Do not invest a lot of effort in attempting to “stake” seedlings. If it’s so weak that it needs support now, cut your losses as it’s not likely to produce a strong plant later on.

You will also need to begin fertilizing the new seedlings regularly. Options are endless here, depending on your preferences. One thing to keep in mind; potting soils containing fertilizer in the mix may still need some supplementation as the new seedlings will struggle to capture enough nutrition from the large fertilizer prills when they are young. Whatever fertilizer is chosen, keep in mind it must be a complete product containing all nutrients necessary for plant growth.

There might be one more step in this process, depending on the growth of your plant and if mother nature cooperates this spring when planting time arrives. If the seedling becomes root bound (needing water more than once a day is a good clue), you may need to “pot it up” to a slightly larger container.


For more information on this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at
keith.reed@okstate.edu, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

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