do seedlings get transplanted up to their first true leaves?

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Hi, a question for us over in Mid Atlantic forum. Two of us seem to recall reading that you can transplant your seedlings deeply, up to the first true leaves, when you move them, especially if they have gotten leggy. Is this a true general rule? Thanks

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)


Not sure about brand new seedlings, but I know you can bury the stems of tomato plants all the way up to the leaves. They will make roots all along the stem and make a stronger plant.

Gonna watch and see what others say.


Centennial, CO(Zone 5b)

depends entirely on the plant. what is true of tomatoes is certainly not true of all. I usually assume that the seedling should be planted at the depth it was growing.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

I am referring to tiny , annual or perennial , seedlings when you first move them up.

from America's Garden Book, my hort 101 book- "Most seedling plants should be set a little deeper than they were when growing in the seed flat. In the case of very spindly plants....set them quite deeply" Do not cover the crown.
My Rodale Organic Gardening book didn't specify.

Thanks, G and g, and still looking for more opinions on this.

North West, OH(Zone 5b)

I've only ever heard that said of tomatos Sally, but I'm pretty new to this. This is a great thread and I too am anxious to see what responses you get.

I don't know about tomatoes but I would not feel comfortable setting any of the herbaceous perennials or woodies that I started from seed a little deeper when planting out. Something about this doesn't sit well with me. Has anyone ever tried this? Wouldn't Ma Nature take care of the "spindliness (sp?)" once the seedling was transplanted outside into an appropriate area? Eesh, you got me thinking about this. My thoughts are that I'd lose my seedlings to stem rots of some sort. I mostly germinate indigenous species. I wonder if this might apply to annuals somehow?

tigerlily123? Can you offer any thoughts please?

Lakewood, WA(Zone 8a)

When I first transplant seedlings into 4 inch pots from their "germination station", I generally plant them slightly deeper than they were growing in the flats. This is especially true if the seed has germinated close to the surface of the soil and has roots that are actually at the surface. I believe your reference is talking about this first transplanting only, not moving them into the garden. I also transplant them a little bit deeper when they are a bit leggy, but really this would indicate lighting conditions that are not optimal so that would need to be corrected anyway. I have never tried planting them all the way up to their first set of leaves, though. To be honest, I just go with my gut feeling about it and make it 'look right' in the pot. My intuition has not failed me on this. I have never lost any to 'damping off' if I've got them to this stage, but I do tend to water with H2O2 water. Planting them a bit deeper does not appear to cause damping off for me, although I've lost plenty just after germination to that problem.

You could always do an experiment by planting half of your seedlings deeper, and the other half exactly the same depth they grew in the nursery flat. Then report your results here!

Eastlake, OH(Zone 5a)

Just about all of my seedlings once they reach their first true set of leaves, get planted deeper up to their leaves. This allows them to establish new roots and deeper roots. It will not affect the plant. I grow dahlias, ziinas, petunias, geraniums, and many other plants all from seed. They all get planted deeper once they get transplanted.

Uh uh, no way. Too chicken. I get the heevie jeevies just thinking about planting any of my babies up to their itty bitty first true leaves. That's sort of like bronzing baby shoes with your kid's feet still in them or something. Maybe I'd experiment if I was growing a plant in the Solanaceae family but I don't grow any of those from seed.

You do it first and report back! Now don't cheat! Sink them all the way up to the first true leaves and try them on something perennial. No fair using a tomato.

Oops, posting when Ironsides was posting. That last post of mine was directed at Pixie.

Albany, OR(Zone 8a)

I always plant my seedlings deeper than what they were germing as. I have had no problems for years. I transplant them when they have only 2 leaves and are about 1/4-1/2" tall. I find that the early stage is easier to pull out of the soil with less roots. They grow just fine from then on. Just keep them misted.

Raleigh, NC(Zone 7b)

I sink all my seedlings down so that the first set of leaves (cotylon) are touching the dirt. In fact I have some zinnia seedlings that we have to do soon that have stems of about 2" and they will get sunk down that far. Its better for the plant, and no, there is no stem rot from it. These are all annuals and perennials that I am talking about.

Once my seeds have germinated-I stop all misting, and just keep the soil moist. Seedlings don't need misting-that actually can encourage a fungus. I also let the soil start to dry out some to encourage root growth as roots grow better in dryer soil than wet soil. Also, I water in the am and let the soil stay dryer at night as that is when the roots grow and they need oxygen to grow and water displaces oxygen-so-the dryer the soil is, to a point, the better the roots grow.
I usually transplant the seedlings when the first set of true leaves are emerging-but I have done it later, you just have to be careful pulling the seedlings apart as the roots are more extensive then.

Hmmm, "I grow dahlias, ziinas, petunias, geraniums, and many other plants all from seed". Now that Ironsides mentioned geraniums, I seem to remember something about this for geranium seedlings. Tigger is growing all annuals. I'm sold on annuals being sunk down to at least the cotyledon because you all have done it and it's standard practice. I don't grow annuals though. Just native perennials and shrubs & trees. For the native tree and shrub seedlings, I really would still be hesitant and I don't think I'd even try it unless I had so much extra seed that I could afford to sacrifice some if my experiment went south. I usually only have say 10 acorns or less of an oak to work with and transplanting them the way I have has always yielded good results. I'm not so sure any more about native perennials what with everyone's comments about their annuals. Has anyone specifically done this to perennials and if so why and what were the perceived benefits?

Raleigh, NC(Zone 7b)

lol thanks for spelling "cotyledon" correctly for me....I knew I shouldn't have posted without drinking coffee first!!

Indianapolis, IN(Zone 5b)

Sally, I read that, too and did it with the things I have grown inside this year -- petunias, primulas, alonsoa meridionalis, impatiens, fibrous-rooted begonias and maybe something else, I can't recall. They are doing great and I am going to plant more deeply on the first prick from now on.

Perceived benefits are straighter, stockier seedlings that can hold their own weight better, both when really small and as they get bigger. Not sure of anything else.


That'll teach ya for going without your caffeine fix because I know you know how to spell that word!

Illoquin, those are all annuals. I now understand what the perceived and ultimately realized benefits are for sinking annuals lower and I would do it myself if I was germinating annuals based on what I've learned here but I'm not getting it for woodies. I still think I'd be dealing with stem rots on those and could conceivably be at risk of losing an otherwise healthy seedling.

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

I grow mostly trees, shrubs, and tropicals and I plant them to about the same depth as they were in the starter pot. Maybe they end up a teensy bit deeper than they were, but I don't purposely plant them deeper. And since I usually start with 4-5 seeds of the plant I want and only 1-2 germinate, I'm not going to take any chances either!

Frederick, MD(Zone 6b)

If I'm starting seeds in a little tray and then transplanting seedlings to starter pots when they have a set or two of true leaves, then I set them deeper than they were growing in the seedling tray, up to the cotyledons if possible.... I do this for tomatoes, peppers, perennial salvias, torenia... pretty much everything... but other than Hibiscus syriacus, I haven't started shrubs or trees from seed.

If I'm transplanting a seedling from its starter pot out into the garden, I set it so it's at the same level that it was growing in the starter pot... if there seem to be lots of little surface roots, I might set it just a bit deeper, but not by much.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

On behalf of Mid Atlantic, thanks for all the experience! I will try to record my experience.

West Central, WI(Zone 4a)

I haven't felt like I have enought knowledge to contribute to this thread, but I certainly have been learning a lot. I may do a bit of experimenting on my own this Spring.

Thanks to everyone for all of their wisdom......and opinions.

Crofton, MD(Zone 7a)

Hey, guys! You won't find an answer that will fit all seedlings. With an estimate of over 300,000 species of plants in the world, they can't all need the same conditions for germination and growth.

Pinellas Park, FL(Zone 9b)

There was a segment on Paul James last weekend about Poppies and there was a poppy expert who said the trick to growing poppies was to bury the seedlings up to the first leaves.

This message was edited Dec 19, 2007 6:54 AM

Archer/Bronson, FL(Zone 8b)

Very good thread here and very useful for me coming up this week.

I have the answers for the maters and peppers and a couple perennials, but what about herbs? I have 3 trays of herbs I will be moving from the tray to 4 inch pots very soon.

For those that actually have some stem growth, they are getting a little leggy and all are now starting to get their first set of "true" leaves.

Last frost date is coming up and I am so anxious to get these things out into the greenhouse and then on into the gardens.


From what I've read above, I'd now sink herbs lower when transplanting them. Makes sense to me particularly on the leggy ones.

Frederick, MD(Zone 6b)

Tom DeBaggio favors clump transplanting for many herbs, and encourages setting the seedlings lower than they were growing in the seed starting tray... I described his method here,

Winchester, KY(Zone 6a)

20-some odd years ago in college greenhouse production class, we were taught to transplant seedlings up to the cotyledons. This, of course was geared toward bedding plant production-mostly annuals. As said above, it totally depends on the species of plant. Many bulb plants from seed need to be allowed to pull themselves down into the soil naturally with contractile roots. I would'nt chance it with woodies either. Good and interesting thread :)

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

thanks geminisage- that would seem to be the standard then for annuals.
thanks critterologist- for the link and your details on seed starting in it.
I put a question on the perennials forum now to try and get that final question answered, whether it's done with perennials.

Lakewood, WA(Zone 8a)

Really I think that, too, is going to be determined on a case by case basis. If you consider the seedlings of digitalis, primula, and other rosette shaped plants, you would clearly see that they cannot be planted more deeply without covering the crown of the plant - an obvious no-no. Likewise, I just potted up some Echium seedlings of various types and they, too, were planted out in their new pots exactly how they had been in the seed tray. On the other hand, I have just potted up some little seedlings from seeds I gathered from a tree in California, and I put them in a bit deeper than they were originally. Maybe it has to do with there being a central stalk that isn't yet woody.

Frederick, MD(Zone 6b)

That makes sense, Pixy... I've done the clump transplanting with little dianthus seedlings, setting them lower in their new pots, and it's worked great... but I agree that I wouldn't cover an obvious crown.

North West, OH(Zone 5b)

As I said in a different thread, I'm always up for an experiment. Wish me pepper plants just went an inch deeper.

Claremore, OK(Zone 6a)

I tried starting some lettuce in starter trays. They seem so soft and floppy. I did transplant them into larger containers, sinking them deeper as to strengthen the stems. So far, it's been almost a week and they are all still alive, although the jury is still out as to wether it did any good to do this. They still look pretty fragile and soft.

Lakewood, WA(Zone 8a)

Peggie, I don't know about lettuce because that plant grows from a central crown and not from a single stem. If you've covered the crowns of the plant, you may want to move the soil away from it.

Mooresville, NC(Zone 7b)

When transplanting from seedling to pot, do I use regular potting soil or stay with the growing medium?
And do I still use my grow lights?
Is a 3'' pot the best to use or can they be put into larger pots? If they are put into 2 or 3" pots, will I be repotting them again before they go in the garden?

Winchester, KY(Zone 6a)

I transplant them into general purpose medium, usually in 3-4" pots. I don't plan to transplant again, but they may get rootbound and require frequent watering which is pretty typical of bedding plants. I don't like to use a very big pot, especially upon transplanting, because they stay wet too long which invites fungi. Some fast growing plants can take it, but I like to err on the side of caution. I keep them under the lights till I start hardening them off.

Indianapolis, IN(Zone 5b)

Since you mentioned crown plants like Primula and Digitalis -- yes, I did those this year -- many of those -- and I planted them deeply with the cotyledons either just under the soil or just touching.

I wouldn't do oak trees like that -- because they have a thick stem (trunk) which will easily hold up the plant and I don't see a perceived benefit.


Portland, OR

It seems like a number of your move your seedlings from the seed starting tray to a starter pot and THEN into the garden. Is it okay to move seedlings directly into the garden? I don't think I will have enough room to add the second step! What do I need to be careful of if I move them directly to the garden, aside from the obvious like "don't let the dog trample them!" Thanks!

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

The reason I do it my way(group of seeds into 2 inch pot, then individuals into sixpacks) is to save space at the beginning, and avoid duds in the six pack. But some things in the 2 inch pot, grow so fast, would be way overcrowded unless moved. Other things are slower or smaller. My concern with alot of plants in one pot is crowding and growing together tightly and competition.
I would expect you may have a little struggle separating some of the plants, and you might lose a few trying to rip them apart. Otherwise I don't think it's a big problem.

Crofton, MD(Zone 7a)

From Practical Science for Gardeners by Mary Pratt:

".... plants grow only at defined 'growing points' called meristems.... Meristems occur at the very tips of leading shoots, in the tips of lateral buds and at the tips of roots. There are also meristems inside stems and roots and at intervals up stems...."

" It's not commonly realized that plant tissues go through a definite transition from childhood to adulthood. After a plant has reached a certain size a change occurs at the growing points and physically different adult tissue is produced."

If plant tissue in seedlings is adaptable, might it produce roots on what was formerly a stem? Unfortunately I couldn't find an exact answer to that question in this book but the author is very knowledgeable provides a lot of useful information and other interesting stuff.

Dirttiger, there are a number of things you should do before planting your new seedlings. Hardening off is first: get your seedlings used to outside temps. Check for pests and protect young plants: depending upon what you plant and the area you live in. (Hint: slugs love some types of seedlings.)

Mooresville, NC(Zone 7b)

I just wanted to clarify that I am speaking of veggie plants...if there is another anwer to my question.
I my herb book it says to put seedlings into 3" pots with the starter medium, not potting soil. ????

Frederick, MD(Zone 6b)

Not sure about your herb book, Ping, but in DeBaggio's book he recommends potting up with any good potting mix (that's a soil-less mix, based on peat or coconut fiber -- it's not the same as potting soil, which generally doesn't drain well enough for use in pots and containers).

I like Pro Mix, personally... just picked up another 2 bales of it today!

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