Re-Potting Tomato Seedlings

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A few weeks ago I told you all about how I was starting my tomato seeds. I started some in mini terracotta pots, and some in re-purposed plastic cookie trays. Now that they’ve sprouted, and are growing well, I will share with you how to transplant the seedlings into larger pots.

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Here’s what the seedlings look like when they first start popping up. These are cabbage seeds emerging, but you get the idea, they all look the same. Once you see green, it’s time to take them out of the plastic “greenhouse” and put them in the light. I let the ones in the tray grow until they are this big:

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Here is my tray after thinning the seedlings. Looking good! These guys are ready to be transplanted.

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Here’s one of the tomatoes grown in the mini pots. At this stage it was ready to be transplanted to a larger pot as well! I chose a tin can with a few holes punched in the bottom for this particular seedling.

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First, remove the bottom two leaves (already done in this photo). You want all of the nutrients focused on going to the “true leaves” now. Using a butter knife, gently go around the inside edges of the pot, loosening the roots. Then, tip the pot upside down (never pull the plant up by the leaves or stem!), and slide the root ball out of the container.

Gently massage the root ball to break it up a little, so that the roots aren’t too tightly bound. When re-potting the plant in the larger container, bury the stem deeper than before. Tomato plants will grow new roots along the stem when planted deeper. This is a great way to help your plant establish as stronger root system, and to keep them from getting too leggy (tall and spindly).

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Here are some of my Amish Paste tomatoes after transplanting from the flat container into these little yogurt cups.

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35 tomato plants total, all transplanted, and basking in the fluorescent lighting! Everything was looking beautiful…

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And then this began to happen. The leaves of some of the plants began to dry up around the edges. What was wrong with them? I could not figure out why some of the seedlings were suddenly dying.

Upon reading some other articles, I came across one note where somebody mentioned that when leaves dry around the edges, and begin to curl under, that was a sign of over fertilization.

And then I had my “Ah-ha” moment. I searched online a little more and discovered what I think my problem is. When I transplanted the seedlings into larger containers, I was supposed to re-pot them using a standard potting mix, or garden soil- NOT more seed starting mix! The seed starter has a lot of fertilizer in it.

Yet another “oops” moment for me.

Now a bunch of my plants are looking pretty rough. I really hope I didn’t kill them entirely. Though I have noticed something rather interesting. The plants which were potted in terracotta pots are doing fine! It’s only the plants in the tin and plastic containers which are suffering. I wonder if the terracotta is absorbing some of the extra fertilizer.

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See the difference? The terracotta potted one on the left is looking wonderful. The one in the yogurt container… not so hot. The top leaves are still okay, but the first two bottom leaves are pretty fried.

So anyways, here’s your big lesson…

When you transplant your little seedlings to larger containers DO NOT RE-POT THEM USING SEED STARTING MIX!

Lesson learned.

Another note to self: the terracotta potted plants are much larger, and much healthier. I won’t ask why, I’m just thankful to have some that still look okay!

6 thoughts on “Re-Potting Tomato Seedlings”

  1. Hey Kendra,

    I’m good friends with a mutual friend, Kelly Prosch.
    This is my first year of growing tomatoes from seed. Here’s a couple of my thoughts…..

    One, don’t play with the root bulb….to much stress. I started from the peet pellets and transplanted the whole bulb into a bit larger pot and now need to transplant into larger buckets (whatever).

    Two, I used Miracle Grow potting soil with time-release feed and added egg shell, coffee grounds, and epsom salt. My plants are doing wonderfully. Next need to figure out how to harden off so many plants. Yikes.

    I found Jerry Baker’s latest book, “Terrific Tomatoes, Sensational Spuds, and Mouth-Watering Melons” extremely helpful.

    I’m hoping to have a bumper crop of tasty tomatoes to put up this summer. Pray your plants make it!

    Hope to meet you someday.


  2. Plants a fickle fickle thing. I am sorry that some of them are not doing well. My guess is they will come out of it. Just wanted to let you know that reading this gave me the motivation I have been lacking to repot my plants. I am going to go do it now!

  3. Just a random thought and may or may not be helpful … but in planting in the past, I’ve noticed that terra cota pots will absorb extra moisture and then release it back into the soil as it drys out. If the soil is kept really moist, a terra cota pot will mold or mildew. The plastic and metal may also be releasing toxins into the soil?


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