This ‘How to’ post is something of a trial. My friend Mara suggested the idea so I thought I’d give it a go.
Ok so lets assume you’ve sown some seeds and got some happy little seedlings:
These tomato seedlings are pretty big for pricking out. The first leaves of a seedling are its seed leaves, in these tomatoes they are the long thin ones. The next set will be ‘real’ leaves and you can prick out from when they start peeking out from between the seed leaves. The earlier the better in many ways as the roots are growing as quickly as the leaves and as they grow they get all intertwined with the roots of the next seedling over and then at pricking out time there is more swearing.
You need some pots to pot up into and a mix of compost suitable for seedlings. The garden centre sells ‘seed and seedling compost’ but if you’re like me (stingy) you can mix it up from multi-purpose compost and sharp sand (not builder’s sand), grit or vermiculite. I use a mix of roughly 3 parts peat free multi-purpose to 1 part vermiculite for my seedlings (for seeds I use more vermiculite). You need special compost because the compost beloved of fully grown plants is too rich for seedlings. Your seedling’s existing compost needs to be moist,but unlike some people I don’t water them just before pricking out because then the leaves stick to each other and it’s just inconvenient, but the compost does need to be moist really. If they’re dry, give them a water and come back in an hour or two.
When pricking out you need to hold your seedlings gently by their leaves and only their leaves:
Really don’t hold them by the stem, it hurts the poor dears. The entire vascular system is going through that flimsy little stem and if that gets damaged it’s pretty much over for the little thing. You wouldn’t hold a baby by the neck now would you? So gently gently tease your seedling out of its compost. I often tip out the pot so I can tease the roots with a plant label while I gently pull the seedling. Once you’ve got it dangling, make it a little hole in the compost, put the roots in and gently firm down. If you’re pricking out a little late and it has quite a little rootball (this never happens to me of course, ahem) you might need to half fill your pot, then insert the seedling, and then top up around it before firming gently.
Now water. I use a fine rose on my watering can. You may need to knock some of the drops off the seedlings so they can stand upright.
At this point they often look slightly drunken. It’s as if they’re going ‘what the heck happened there?!’ but they soon stretch their toes out into their fresh new compost, breathe a sigh of relief and settle in to grow like stink.