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survived the winter, had begun to look very tired and dispirited, so they were relegated to the compost bin, and have been replaced by these healthy youngsters:-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...


15 comments:

  1. Thankyou Mark I have learnt a lot.

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  2. Excellent post! I learned two new terms. Thanks Mark!

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  3. You know I have never done this. I read an article once where someone tested tomato plants. Some they transplanted like you do and some they started in larger pots and only transplanted once into the garden. The ones only transplanted once were larger and grew better besides I just never could understand the point of all that transplanting. Lettuce I sow straight into the garden.

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  4. Thanks Mark. i only started growing plants from seed this year. My germination rates were good, but I wasn't sure what to do then. Your plants look absolutely fantastic and healthy. Because our weather is gentler here, I can plant a lot of things directly too which cuts out lots of the earlier propagation work.

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  5. Rereading my comment and wanted to say that I did not mean it to sound like your way didn't work. I know that lots of people do it and they have great gardens, and yours are looking great too. I just have never tried it. There are times when I leave messages and then worry that I didn't say it well is all.

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  6. Becky; No worries! No offence taken. Gardening is a very personal thing. The best methods are the ones that work well for you.

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  7. Enjoyed reading this post and your plants look healthy. I can never quite understand the 'rule' of not putting a plant into a large pot when you know its got to end up in a large pot. But all the gardeners say not to do it so I generally stick with the so called rules. Your chilis are looking well, naturally I compare mine with the size of yours (don't know why). Anyways yours are bigger. All the best, Kelli.

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  8. Your lettuce looks great, I planted some at the same time as you, however mine are not looking quite so wonderful! Pricking out and potting on, no offence Mark but it sounds like you need to go into rehab :p

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  9. Those basils look cute lining up in the dining room. What a good idea giving them away for charity. I have a patch now with so many self-sowed celery(I think it should be more than 100very healthy seedlings there). I don't have any more recycled containers to pot them.

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  10. I always put my plant, when they grow in a bigger container, but I have also friend who don't do it. Like you say to Beccky "The best methods are the ones that work well for you" I agreed 100%.

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  11. Your peppers look amazing! I will be most interested to hear what you think of the Cape Gooseberries, we grew them last year and found them to produce much less fruits than our ground cherries do. That said, I did really love the flavor of them and last year was not the best for this type of plant with our cool spring and summer. I might have to give them another try next year...I think you will like the way they taste.:)

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  12. Love this post, Mark! Your young seedlings all look so healthy. You will have quite a wonderful garden this year. I, too, always plant more than I need so I can give seedlings away to my friends. To me, that's one of the most fun parts about gardening!

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  13. Beautifully healthy plants Mark, your chillies are a little ahead of mine. I am trying to hold off potting on my toms, I haven't really quite got the space - more juggling required.

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  14. Have you grown the cape gooseberries before? I nearly picked a packet of seed up a couple of months ago but changed my mind at the last minute.

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  15. Captain Shagrat: No I have never grown Cape Gooseberries before, but I like eating them so I thought it was worth trying. Last year I grew Tomatillos, which are related, and they did very well - TOO well in fact. We couldn't think of many ways to eat the masses of fruit they produced.

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