Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Seperating Seedlings safely

Have you ever bought a container just because it had extra seedlings in it only to have trouble getting them apart?  Yesterday I was out looking for, oh anything that struck my fancy in the way of plants and guess what I found?  Tomatoes starts...three in a pot!  My brain immediately went into thrifty shopper mode and all I saw were two pots with six plants in them!

Oh, a bonus buy, six for the price of two!

So here's the deal.  You have been lied to...well sort of.  You know those pots with more than one seedling in them?  Unless they are squash or cucumbers you don't have to cut the heads off of them.  Yup...that's right!  I had the good fortune of working as a plant propagator for a couple of years and one thing I learned very early on was that plants will take a lot more messing with than we have been taught, at least most plants. 

To get the seedlings apart safely you need to take some care though as just tearing them apart tears off valuable roots so let me share a secret I learned from my propagator job...use water.  That's right, water.  Here's how it's done.

Roots at the sides of the pot but not matted

Pop the plants out of the container.  The roots should look about like the ones in the photo above.  By the way I always check the roots at the nursery, the plants won't be bothered by you carefully popping them out of the container to look at them unless they were just planted which I see once in a while and honestly, they shouldn't be out for sale until the roots hit the side of the pot.

Water is great for removing soil from roots
Fill a large bowl about half way up with water, enough to cover the roots with room to swish around in it without spilling it everywhere.  Gently swish the root ball around in the water to wash away the soil.

A gentle pressing of the wet root ball helps release more soil

After a little swishing around in the water you may find it helpful to gently press the root ball to get the soil to release from the roots.

Almost clean of soil particles...yippee!

Be sure to get as much of the soil off as possible or those roots will not want to come apart without tearing.

About as good as it gets, time to start unraveling things

 Once the soil is washed off the roots you can begin to untangle them without tearing them.  Be careful not to tug on them too hard or they will break off.  It is a lot like untangling twine or that necklace.

Don't let a minor root mat get you down

Watch for matted roots and be patient working them apart.  They will come apart, just don't rush it.

It's working!

Hey, will you look at that!  It's working, they are coming apart pretty well.  It is literally like trying to untie a knot in string or a chain.  Its best to not yank on them but keep the tension loose and relaxed and it works a whole lot better.

Three now set free

Once they are separated you can pot them up in their own little pots or plant them in the ground if its time to.

Pinching leaves

Pinch off the lower leaves (cotelydon or embryonic first leaves) leaving the top leaves (true leaves).  This will let you plant the tomatoes a little deeper and allow them to form roots all along their stem. 

NOTE: There are very few plants that can do this so don't try it with others unless you know they can form leaves along their stems too.

Just enough soil to cover the bottom

Place a layer of potting soil in the bottom of each pot and set the plants in them with the roots spread out a bit.

Spread roots a bit

Fill the containers with soil and water in well.  Set them in a warm sunny location and when the roots can be seen kind of like the top photo of them go ahead and plant them into even larger pots or in the garden.  Six tomato starts for the price of two for a buck and a half...not a bad deal at all I'd say.

A little extra effort will reap a greater harvest of tomatoes

Happy Gardening!

Copyright © 2012 by Patty Hicks
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1 comment:

  1. Wow, Patty! Great article, excellent instructions and photos. Thanks for taking the time to put it together.