Tuesday, 19 April 2011
Pricking out and potting on
These are terms that experienced gardeners will fully understand, but for the benefit of our less-experienced colleagues, this is what they mean. "Pricking out" is the process of transferring tiny seedlings from their first home (usually a seed-tray) into individual containers or modules. This is normally done soon after the seedlings have developed their first set of true leaves (as opposed to their cotyledons or "seed-leaves"). It is a task that needs to be done with some care. Accumulated wisdom says that you should lift up the tiny seedlings on a non-metallic implement, to avoid accidental damage (I ignore this sometimes, because I find my stainless steel widger to be an ideal implement). You are also advised to handle the seedlings by the leaves, not the stems, for the same reason. A plant can replace damaged leaves, but not a damaged stem.
This is a picture of my newly pricked-out Basil seedlings, sitting on the Dining Room windowsill. Their predecessors, having survived the winter, had begun to look very tired and dispirited, so they were relegated to the compost bin, and have been replaced by these healthy youngsters:-
In my usual way, although I really only require four plants, I actually had nine strong seedlings, and I couldn't bear to just throw away the spare ones, so I have potted them up in individual 3" pots, and I will give them to my friend Rosemary, who is collecting plants for sale at a Hospital Fete which aims to raise money for charity.
I have applied the same procedure to my Physalis (Cape Gooseberry) seedlings. I have seven plants, though I plan to grow to maturity only two of these. Hopefully they won't be quite as big and prolific as the Mexican Tomatillo plants I grew last year!
The term "Potting on" is the name applied to moving a plant into a bigger container. The 3" and 4" pots in the pictures above will only be suitable for these plants for a period of a couple of weeks and they will soon need to be moved into even bigger containers. It is not recommended that you put a tiny plant straight into a massive pot. Why? Not sure really. Maybe they just get lonely / intimidated! Actually, it is good for practical reasons to keep your plants in fairly small containers for as long as possible, because it allows you to protect them better. In our part of the world you can still get frosts in May, so it is handy to be able to put tender plants (like tomatoes) under cover if required, which for space reasons would not be possible for me if they were already in big pots. The next picture shows seedlings of the Tomato variety "Maskotka". The black 3" pot at the left demonstrates the first size into which I put individual tomato seedlings, and the terracotta-coloured 5" pot on the right shows the next size up.
These Lettuce seedlings are not going to be Pricked-out or Potted-on. They will just go straight into the ground in their final growing positions - and soon too, because they are getting quite big, and they are hardy enough to not require frost protection.
I have progressively thinned this seed tray to avoid over-crowding, but I'll still end up with more than I need. Lettuce is definitely a crop that needs to be sown successionally, in small batches throughout the growing season. You don't want loads of lettuces all coming on at the same time. However much you like lettuce there is only so much you can eat! A mature lettuce often bolts, so in most cases you can't just leave it until you need it. This is one of the reasons why I always grow some of the Cut-and-Come-Again types. I particularly like "Fristina", a frizzy almost Endive-like lettuce that can be harvested leaf by leaf if required.
My chilli plants are getting big too. They will definitely need potting-on, but that's a task for Easter weekend...