Planting Healthy Tomatoes – Seedling Transplant


From Seedling Tray to 4” Pot

Growing your own seedlings is a great way to have a wide variety of tasty tomato plants. Now that you’ve got them started, you need to transfer them to a bigger pot so that they can continue to thrive.

You have planted and carefully tended your seedling tray and now your seeds have germinated and are growing. After 1-2 sets of true leaves develop, it’s time to step your seedling up to a larger pot, so let’s get going!

To transplant your tomato seedlings, you’re going to need the following:

  1. Good potting soil. There are many on the market including Pro-mix, Fafard, Espoma, Miracle-Gro, Fox Farm etc. Make sure it is potting mix, not seed starting mix.
  2. Fertilizer. You may use a basic 10-10-10 or an Organic product like Tomato-Tone by Espoma
  3. A small spoon
  4. A narrow trowel
  5. Liquid fertilizer mixed at ½ strength. Make sure you get one with micro-nutrients. You may also use fish emulsion or fish emulsion with seaweed. These products are smelly but they provide excellent nutrition.
  6. A tub or wheelbarrow
  7. Quart pots

Now that you know what you need, let’s get started.

Steps to transplant your seedling into a larger pot.

  1. Place the potting soil in your tub or wheelbarrow and moisten it thoroughly. You want it damp but not soggy. If you squeeze it, it shouldn’t drip.
  2. Place a small quantity of soil loosely in the 4″ pot.
  3. Remove the seedling from the tray gently using the spoon. Do not pull the plant out by the stem!
  4. Gently loosen the roots and let the loose soil fall.
  5. With small scissors or nippers, remove all but the uppermost leaves.
  6. Place the plant in the pot so that the root and the stem will be buried and gently add potting soil up the leaves. Do not pack soil.
  7. With the small spoon, dig a hole in the corner of the pot. Add 1/2 spoon of fertilizer and cover with soil.
  8. Water with ½ strength solution of the liquid fertilizer. Don’t over-water.
  9. Place your transplants in a well lit room, greenhouse or cold frame until the weather warms enough to put them in the ground. The temperature should be above 55 degrees in the greenhouse and should be consistently above 55 degrees outside before you put them in the ground.


This method will give your transplants a healthy start, will encourage maximum root growth and will allow you to get your plants into the ground early. Before you put plants in the ground you want to” harden them off” so that they’re not shocked.

To do this, you gradually expose them to the elements at least once per week before planting. Cut back on water and fertilizer and set plants in an area that gets filtered light. Gradually increase time in the sun each day.

If your plants get too “leggy” and it’s still too cold to put them in the ground, you may transplant them again into a quart pot. Tomatoes transplant easily and every time you bury the stem, you will encourage more root development, so it’s better to transplant them again than to put them out too early.

If it’s still too cold to put your plants in the ground, but they’re outgrowing the 4-inch pot, check out our next article, Transplanting Young Tomato Plants.

If you’re getting ready to transplant your new plants or if you’ve already finished, we’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.

Comments from Other Gardeners
  • Mary Anne says:

    Planting this way does give your plants a head start and a much healthier root system. I live in Florida and start my seeds in early February, By planting time they are happy and healthy and I get tremendous yields.

  • Amy says:

    I always just left my seedlings in the seed tray until planting but this method is much better! My plants are in the ground now and the root ball was well developed and the plants look much healthier. I am looking forward to a great harvest.

  • Theresa says:

    In addition to getting great yields by transplanting my tomatoes like this, I also got to spend time with my kids because they helped me to do it. Now that they’r grown, they still come over sometimes when they know that I’m planting and we make a day of it! It’s a great way to spend quality family time while passing on my love of plants and healthy eating.

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