Guide written by:
John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge
The start of summer is the perfect time to plant things out that you've grown from seed. Transplantation involves moving a young plant from its original location to give it more space, either into open soil or a larger container (bucket, pot...)
- Type of transplantation
- Tips for success
Why transplant vegetables?
There are two main situations where transplanting is necessary: after growing from seed and to promote healthy plant development by giving your plants more space.
Planting out from seed
If you've laid down seedlings in a nursery setting, in trays or pots, and now you want to set them off to keep growing, you'll need to plant them out. This is a really important stage in cultivating crops for your kitchen garden.
Transplanting for growing space
In this case you've ended up with your plants cramped close together and it's hindering their healthy development. This often happens with small-seeded plants like salad vegetables. You'll need to remove some of the plants to give the others more growing room, but instead of chucking the excess plants, you can plant them out (i.e. transplant them) in another part of the garden, spacing them out sufficiently so that you can have two separate thriving crops. This can't be done with all types of plants as some - such as carrots - don't tolerate transplanting well.
How to go about it successfully?
Before you do anything else, you've got to prepare the ground in the location where you hope to put your plants.
Transplanting bare-root plants
For overcrowded seedlings, in trays or pots, gently pull out the plants, avoiding pinching too hard or displacing their neighbours. Plenty of water a few hours beforehand will help you. In your chosen destination, make a hole in the soil with a dibber and put your plant in. Gently level the soil out around it and water. You might also be tempted to replant in pots before you move them out to the open soil. The process is the same, except you can do without the dibber and just use a finger or a pencil.
Replanting from pots
Potted individual plants (tomatoes, peppers, courgettes, celery...) should be turned out, making sure that the growing medium stays together with the roots to leave a supporting plug. Unlike in the previous case, this is easiest if the soil is fairly dry. In the planting-out location, make a hole large enough to embed the plug. For this you can use a hoe, spade or specialized trowel. Place the plant in the hole and fill with fine soil. Gently flatten the soil around the plant and water. If you notice that the roots are tightly wrapped around the plug, disentangling them will help them spread out and develop in their new location.
How deep should you go?
The general rule of thumb is that you should transplant to the same depth as the plants were at previously. Some plants can however benefit from being planted out deeper:
- cabbages – which can be planted up to the base of the bottom leaves
- tomatoes – which will put out roots right the way along the buried portion, helping to nourish the plant. You can even go as far as planting the bottom two leaves
- Leeks have to be buried deeply if you want more white at the base.
Other plants, however, don't respond well to being buried deeply: this is the case for all salad vegetables and strawberries.
There are certain specific techniques that can be used to improve the chances of transplanted plants:
cabbage and leeks benefit from being dipped, which consists of bathing the roots for several hours in a rich dipping mixture made of clay-rich soil and cow manure; or if not then clay-rich soil on its own or shop-bought mixture will do.
cut down leek roots and leaves by about half
cut away the top halves of the leaves on leafy vegetables (lettuce, chicory, chard...) so they don't loose too much water through evaporation.
What's the best time to transplant?
In order to minimize the stress on the plant, it's a good idea to transplant as soon as the plant has put out 2 ou 3 leaves, not counting cotyledons (the first two embryonic leaves to emerge, that look a bit different from the others).
If you're into biodynamic methods, transplanting should ideally be done on a waning moon.
Learn more about gardening...
To find out more about gardening, follow our editors' advice and check out their other guides:
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Guide written by:
John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge, 61 guides
When I was young, I was already working in the family garden. Perhaps that is where my interest in plants and gardening came from. So, it was logical for me to study both plant biology and agronomy. At the request of various publishers I have, over twenty-five years, written many books on the subject of plants and mushrooms (a subject that is close to my heart).They were mostly identification guides at first, but shortly after they were about gardening, thus renewing the first passion of my childhood. I have also regularly collaborated with several magazines specializing in the field of gardening or more generally in nature. There is no gardener without a garden, I have cultivated mine in a small corner of Cambridge for the last thirty years and this is where I put into practice the methods of cultivation that will I advise you in as well.