Ruth keeps on top of this year's bumper crop of seedlings

We have grown more plants then ever from seed this year so there has been a succession of weekends spent potting on young plants and making room on windowsills for the next batch.

As a result, our rickety old coldframe, the greenhouse and the mini greenhouse are stuffed to the seams with new plants – yet the windowsills are only marginally clearer!

Growing from seeds is SO satisfying and easy to do and it also takes a great weight off your wallet.

Most seedlings are ready to graduate from their sowing compost into individual (or larger, shared) pots when they are a couple of inches tall and have grown their first couple of sets of ‘proper’ leaves, rather than the round germination leaflets they start with.

The compost you use for the second pots depends on the size of the seedlings. I generally use John Innes No 2 for ornamental plantlets and multipurpose mixed with John Innes No 2 for veg seedlings such as squashes, courgettes, chillies, tomatoes and aubergines.

It gets a bit – but only a bit – more complicated when the seeds are very small and were scattered close together, leading to small colonies of tiny seedlings.

Scoop up small seedlings together and gently press them into a pot of dampened John Innes No 1

These can be scooped up with a spoon in small slumps of a few seedlings and transplanted wholesale in another pot of slightly stronger compost. For these I use John Innes No 1.

(When you are moving your seedlings, only ever hold them by the leaves. The stems are desperately fragile and if they are damaged or given the slightest squish it can damage or kill the plant.)

You can either dampen the compost before pricking out or, afterwards, stand the trays and pots in a bowl of water to soak up the moisture.

One thing you should always remember is that these little plants are still fragile and vulnerable to attack by pests and disease, so if they are going into already-used pots, give these a good wash first to remove any potential contaminants.

Before you reuse pots and modules for seedlings, make sure they are washed well

Keep an eye on the seedlings as they grow as they will remain prone to pests. A layer of gravel at the bottom of your coldframe will keep slugs etc at bay, and check greenhouse plants regularly or greenfly.

A couple of days ago I actually discovered that a tomato seedling in the spare bedroom was covered in greenfly and looking extremely sorry for itself. I washed its leaves (and checked the other plants) and it is now looking much healthier.

Here is a basic six-step guide to pricking out seedlings:


Fill clean modules or pots with fresh compost – I’m using John Innes No2 here

Fill pots or modules with John Innes No2 or a mix of John Innes No 2 and multi-purpose compost and dampen with fresh tap water (or soak the trays in a bowl of water once the seedling are planted). I am using last year’s bedding plant packs that I washed beforehand.


Dip holes for the roots and stems in the centre of a module or around the edge of a large pot if that’s what you’re using instead

Dib a deep hole in the centre of each, wide and deep enough to take the entire rootball. For smaller seedlings, a pen or pencil will do just as well.


Carefully lift the seedling from the compost holding it carefully by a leaf, never by the stem

Carefully lift the seedling using a spoon or plant label to scoop up its rootball. Hold it steady via the leaves.


Drop the seedling into a dubbed hole. Don’t worry if some of the stem is buried too, it may also grow more roots and make a stronger plant

Drop the roots into the prepared hole, gently making sure they all go down into the compost.


Carefully firm the compost around the seedling to hold it firm

Carefully firm around the plantlet to support it, still holding the leaves never the stem.

It is now warm enough to put your seedlings in the coldframe, greenhouse or mini greenhouse until they are ready to be planted out.


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