Transplanting seedlings is sometimes seen as a surgical like procedure with do-or-die consequences. While it does take some care and patience, seedlings are fortunately programmed to grow, and all we need to do is provide the conditions to make that happen.
In the photo below we have a pot of Asclepias lanceolata seedlings that need to be transplanted. They definitely could have been transplanted earlier, but it is better to transplant them a little big than too small. If we didn’t transplant them from this pot, the larger seedlings would eventually crowd out the smaller plants in nature’s survival of the fittest. Transplanting them into individual containers will level the playing field and give them all an equal chance to grow into mature plants.
It’s very easy to get enthusiastic and transplant the seedlings before they have an established root system. Generally, you will have more success if you wait until the seedlings have at least several sets of leaves before transplanting.
Supplies and tools
- Potting mix
- Small pots (2 to 3 inches)
- Small knife (cutting the roots of larger seedlings)
- Dibber (for making holes in potting mix to place smaller seedlings in)
When transplanting seedlings make sure it is done out of direct sunlight and sheltered from drying winds. If you are worried about the seedlings drying out while transplanting, the roots and leaves can be misted with water to help keep them hydrated.
Milkweed seeds can often germinate erratically over several months. Since we want as many seedlings as possible, we are not going to dump the soil out and are instead going to cut around and remove each individual seedling that is ready for transplanting. This will keep the seeds that have not germinated near the surface and not buried too deep.
It is important when working with seedlings that you pick them up by the leaves and not the stems. Seedling stems are very fragile as they are where the water is transported up through the roots for the plant to grow.
By gently holding the leaves of the seedling with one hand we are going use a sharp knife to cut around the seedling with our other hand. Make a cut about ½ inch out from the stem all the way around the seedling. With larger seedlings, a deeper cut may be needed to make sure you undercut the longer roots. Gently remove the seedlings by lifting them by their leaves and prying them up with the knife from underneath.
Now that we have removed the seedlings from the seed pot, it is time to put them up into individual containers. This should be done as soon as possible so that the seedlings do not dry out and die.
Potting up is fairly straightforward, though it takes a little practice. Hold the seedling by its leaves and lower it into the pot so the seedling is at the same level it was when growing in the seed pot. With your other hand gently add potting mix and lightly press it down, adding more potting mix if necessary, so that the potting mix is ½ inch below the rim of the pot.
Now we have them potted up it is time to water them in thoroughly and set them in an area out of direct sun. After a couple of days they can be moved to a sunnier location.