Transplanting leggy seedlings

glimmer246April 29, 2009

Hi all,

I hope this hasn't been answered before but I read through a ton of threads and couldn't find a specific answer.

This is my first year starting with seeds and I've made my first big mistake. I kept reading not to place the grow lights too close to the plants but it wasn't until too late that I realized too far is no good either. Now I have a ton of leggy flowers and veggies. I have already planted up the ones that no longer fit their pots by just putting the whole peat pot in a larger one. They are doing fine but here is the real question....the leggy ones that have not outgrown their pots are so delicate I can't imagine trying to dig them out and transplant them individually and I don't have enough pots (or room) to do this anyways. I understand from the posts I have read that I need to plant them up to their first leaves but can I just add soil to the pots they are already in? I was SO excited by the first growth('s a newbie thing:))and I am really hoping that I can save the rest of them. Thanks in advance.

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*can I just add soil to the pots they are already in?
If you have room in the pot for more mix get it in there as soon as you can . Keep it kinda wet and spoon it in as carefully as you can.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2009 at 3:54AM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

If you have a lot of seedlings in the same pot, they will need to be separated sooner or later and sooner is better in most cases. Presuming you have at least the second set of leaves, here is how I separate mine. Carefully knock the soil out of the pot, protecting the seedlings with your other hand. Lay the soil flat on its side and gently break it up. Easy if you used a loose, light, starter soil mix. With a leaf between your fingers, use both hands gently with each hand pull the seedlings apart. Gently lower each seedling into holes made previously into potting mix. Right up to the seed leaves. Handle your seedlings only by their leaves, never by the stem. Al

    Bookmark   April 29, 2009 at 9:39AM
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Ideally, they need to be removed completely from the peat pots. Peat pots tend to soak up a ton of water & if you don't constantly water the seedlings, the peat pots will eventually cause them to dry out and maybe even die. I'd recommend buying a package of 16 oz plastic cups, poke holes in the bottom & transplant all seedlings (1 per cup) to them. Pot up to the cotyledons (baby leaves). The plants growth will "stall" for a few days to a week while they re-root themselves in their new homes, but then they'll take off & be a lot healthier than in the peat pots. Just IMO.

- Steve

    Bookmark   April 29, 2009 at 11:27AM
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I am having this same problem--and I'm also a newbie-- and am about to transplant some of my leggier seedlings. But I'm confused. Are plastic cups the best way to go? What about square plastic pots that flowers came in last year? I guess it doesn't matter, right? The point is to give them space, and cover up the leggy stem so it can sprout roots.

And this will happen with all my leggy ones, not just tomatoes?

    Bookmark   May 2, 2009 at 3:42PM
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Karen Pease

Whatever you put them in, make sure it has drainage holes.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2009 at 11:20PM
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mayberrygardener(z5a, Broomfield, CO)

I have read that some things should NOT be "buried to first leaves" or the stems will simply rot in the soil. Tomatoes have the ability to grow roots from anywhere along the stems, while some plants only have the ability to grow roots from a joint or bud, where leaves or another stem would "sprout" from. In fact, it is recommended that tomatoes started from seed be replanted a couple of times, covering to the current top leaves or so (no mind the "first leaves" business) to give the plant a deeper and sturdier root system thereby being a better anchor for the plant, not to mention increased uptake of water & nutrients from the soil, etc. However, if you do this with, say, a mature strawberry, you'll kill the entire crown and it will rot.

More specific question, based on all of the above (including the previous posts): For plants that are not tomatoes, can I "bury" to the cotyledon leaves? Do I need to wait for first true leaves? I've got some really leggy cabbage and basil.

Great thread.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2009 at 1:09PM
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I have some leggy cucumber and watermelon seedlings. can they be saved or do I need to replace them. Getting to late to reseed. Is there a way to save them

    Bookmark   April 18, 2010 at 12:42PM
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I know basil and cucumber sprouts can be transplanted to the leaves, presumably so can melons and cabbage.



    Bookmark   April 18, 2010 at 6:45PM
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My 85 year old father, who has been gardening for most of those years, insists on burying just about everything up to the leaves...tomatoes (of course), bell peppers, cabbage, cantaloupe, name it!

I am always dubious of some of these, but his garden thrives...year after year.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2010 at 9:56PM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

I agree with your 85 year old father and I am only 82, but we must have gone to the same school. Al

    Bookmark   April 19, 2010 at 9:50AM
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maps31(5 salt lake city, UT)

does the same thing apply to different lettuces and leafy greens?

They came up like gangbusters but got tall and no second set of leaves yet.
as they are in little peat pods made for transplanting, will any container work? another newbie, at least to seeds, anxious and a horribly short growing season.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2010 at 4:35PM
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skywoolf(Maybe 9+)

I have had many seedlings and even established plants damp off and die when transplanted and planted deeper than they were before transplanting. Tomatoes are fine if planted deeper but man other plants are not.

I am in the tropics (Philippines) where it is very hot and humid much of the time and I have to take precautions against fungi destroying seeds even before they germinate so maybe the damping off problem is dependent on climate?

    Bookmark   April 20, 2010 at 8:32PM
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I bought a small pot of lemon basil, and they are VERY leggy. The plants are only on their 3rd set of true leaves, and they are about 6 inches tall! Is there a way I can save these?

Here is a link that might be useful: My Garden Blog

    Bookmark   April 29, 2011 at 12:40PM
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I tell you my experience. Certain seedlings like Tomatoes can be buried deep and they respond by producing more roots. Others do not. I have no idea why my cantaloupe is so leggy add to that the squash. I tried to bury them like tomatoes but the stem rotted and the plants died. I did this experience I went to the dollar store and bought plastic cups 22 ounces each narrow and long, 3 for $1. With the drill I made holes in the button for drainage and transplanted the leggy cantaloupe and squash in it no burying or nothing. They are growing in the cups very goods most of them on the fifth leaf. I go to the nursery store and feel bad how do they get their plants to grow that good and I am not.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2011 at 4:09PM
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I have some very leggy icicle radishes. How deep can I plant them?

    Bookmark   May 1, 2011 at 10:12AM
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Odd question, I know. I started many varieties of snapdragons by winter sowing. Also started some indoors. Those started indoors have done great and are going through the hardening-off process well. The winter-sown plants are so miniscule that (here in zone 5) I can't imagine they'll bloom before August. Can I bring them indoors to put them under lights and give them a better head start? Posted this on the winter-sown forum but have not received a response. Thanks.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 10:00PM
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Sorry - above should've been new thread.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2011 at 7:09AM
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You are in zone 5 and you planted seeds outside you are lucky they germinated. I am in zone 7a and hesitant to take my plants outside. I am waiting to June first. The soil temperature has to be 65 in order to have healthy plants. Yes you could have stressed plants in cold but stressed plants do not produce. I keep using the thermometer to measure the soil temperature it is not 65 yet not even close.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2011 at 11:20PM
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Foolish pleasure - you should read in the Winter Sowing forum - you would be amazed at how many things can germinate and grow in the cold. Not so good for tomatoes and peppers, but many flowers thrive.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 7:19AM
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