Pricking out refers to transplanting young seedlings from their original flat into their new home – an individual pot of their own. You might wonder, why bother?
Well, there are a couple of advantages to starting your seeds enmass and pricking out a few weeks later. First, you can eliminate any of the seedlings that haven’t kept up with their breathern – the weaklings you might say. If you sow more seeds than you need, you can choose the strongest to be transplanted and discard the ones that haven’t kept pace.
Second, transplanting can make certain seedlings stronger. Tomatoes are a good example. When moving them from the flat to their individual pot I have the opportunity to plant them deeper, which strengthens their root system. This will become apparent as the plants grow, particularly after they have been moved outside.
This week my Tumbler Tomatoes were ready to be pricked out. They are only three weeks old, but already have their second set of “true leaves”. The first set of leaves which appear are called “cotyledon” or primary leaves . They are formed using energy stored in the seed, but are not considered true leaves. When pricking out the tiny seedlings, they should be lifted gently from below with a small fork or tool designed especially for this task. Try to disturb the root system as little as possible, and only touch the cotyledon leaves when moving the plant.
A deep hole should be made in fresh moist starting mix and the seedling dropped in, carefully packed (not too tight) and adjusted. At this stage the plants are ready to be fed weekly with a weak fertilizer mix (2-5-2) until they are transplanted outside. I’ll write more about fertilizing a future blog.
I think that pricking out is the most pleasurable process in the propogation of seeds – it’s when you start to feel as though all the work is rewarding. Only six more weeks to last frost!