While We Wait: Transplanting and Hardening Off

We’re still a good week or two away from being able to safely put tomatoes in the garden, but if you’ve got seedlings you started yourself, or bought in those teeny-tiny fourpacks from a greenhouse, it will be a good idea to do some transplanting to encourage them along. (Probably should have done this a while ago already, but who among us is actually on top of everything right now?)

The thing that is very cool about tomatoes is that if you bury the stem under some dirt, new roots will form off the stem! Which will create a much stronger, larger root system to support the plant. So, here is a very quick guide for how to transplant your seedlings! (For a longer and more comprehensive discussion, this post is worth a read.)

You will need: pots to transplant into, garden gloves, a trowel or small dirt scooping instrument, and potting soil. And of course, your seedlings. My pictures here show some seedlings I bought from four-packs at the greenhouse, which were very tall and very root-bound in their tiny “pots”.

The simplest way to go about this is: pull your tomato seedling out from its tiny pot, set it at the very bottom of the new pot, and then cover in dirt. Then water, and you’re all set!

It is really that easy. The main thing to keep in mind is to bury it as deep as you can. You can see my demonstration seedling was pretty tall and leggy, but I buried it as deep as the new pot would allow. I probably should/could have put it even deeper, using a larger pot, if I was trying to be perfect.

Bonus mini-post: because I know I won’t be able to muster up the timely energy to write an entire post on hardening off – once your tomatoes are transplanted and doing well, the weather right now is perfect to start taking them outdoors for an acclimatization field trip every day until it’s time to plant them (this is what’s known as “hardening off”).

To do so, bring them outside to a sunny, sheltered location for an hour or two to start, and gradually increase their outdoor time (and wind exposure) over the next couple weeks. They may wilt a bit at the start, but will spring back. Eventually they will be acclimatized to the elements and will not get such a shock when you put them in the garden.

I will admit that I have skipped the hardening off phase a few times. It wasn’t to my advantage as the plants were obviously shocked and did not grow at all for the first few weeks in the garden, but they eventually bounced back. It just halted their growth for a while which meant they didn’t produce fruit as early as they could have, so the only real loser in the situation was me.

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