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How to Prick Out Seedlings (Fix Leggy Ones Easily!)

In this video, Dave demonstrates how to prick out and pot on young seedlings in the most effective way possible so that your plants have the best chance of thriving. He also explains what to do if you have thin, leggy seedlings. No need to panic, there's an easy fix!

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Here’s what Dave says in this video…

So today I’m going to show you how to prick out seedlings. We’re going to be pricking out some chilies and tomato plants and potting them on into a larger container.

How to Prick Out Seedlings (Chillies)

This is a variety of chili called Longhorn that was set a couple of months ago now in February. So they’re ready for moving on into fresh compost.

They’ve got their true leaves now. So all I’m going to do is just knock them out of the pot. And the easiest way to do it is just to support the compost with your fingers, turn the pot upside down and just gently tip it out. And then you can see you’ve got roots forming in the bottom of the pot. So they’re ready to prick out into a larger pot, individual pot.

And the pots I’m going to use today are these recycled yogurt pots. All I’ve done is just cut the top off just to make it easy to stand up in the tray. And they are sort of the perfect size really. You can use it in a three inch pot. But just for these small plants we’re just going to use small yogurt pots just to recycle.

I’ve put some drainage holes in the bottom, so I’m going to use good peat free compost. And then all I’m going to do is just break the clump apart. They’ve had a watering early this morning, so it’s a couple of hours ago just so that the compost holds together, holds its shape. And as you can see, you’ve got roots coming out of the compost there and at the bottom.

So I’m just going to prize those two apart. Try and keep as much compost on there as we can. And again, I can see the roots there. So what we do is just set this at the same height, the same depth as it was in the original pot, gently firm in give it a label. So you know what, they are. I’m only labeling it because we’ve got different types of chilis. So want to know which is which basically.

Just making sure your plant is going to be at the same depth in the pot as it was in its original container. You don’t need to firm them into too much because you want the roots to move freely through the compost, but you need to get all the air out of the compost as well.

Treating Chillies with Envii Foundation

We’ve not really disturbed those plants at all, which is good. So they should grow away nicely now. And what we’re actually going to do, we’re going to treat these with a product called Envii Foundation, which encourages root growth and it stimulates the plant to put on more leaf growth as well. And It’s good for chillies, tomatoes, Some flowers like dahlias, etc., which we’ve used in the past so it’s just one level scoop. And all you do is just sprinkle around the top of the compost in the pot. And that helps to feed the plant and encourage it into growth.

And you give this three times at four weekly intervals. So week one, then four weeks time another dose, then in eight weeks time, the third and final dose. And that should set the plant up to be healthy and strong. And all we do with that is just water and you need to water the plant anyway. Once you’ve pricked it out of its original pot.

They should grow away nicely now, pop it back into the greenhouse, the tray itself has got drainage holes in, so the water will drain away. You don’t want them sat in water.

How to Prevent Frost Damage in Cold Greenhouses

Make sure you don’t let any frost get at them. This is a cold greenhouse that we use. So we just cover it over with fleece at night if we know there’s going to be a frost. And I tend to check the weather forecast every every couple of hours anyway.

How to Fix Leggy Seedlings

So now we’re going to look at tomato plants and this is quite a good example of how you can get different plants in the same pot.

So we’ve got these San Marzano tomatoes and as you can see, we’ve got two quite nice, sturdy, stocky plants there, and two, what we call leggy plants. They’ve been drawn by the sun, so that means they’ve just gone towards the sun. A lot of people worry about that, but with tomatoes, it’s not such a problem because you can plant tomatoes quite deeply because they will root from the stem, you just need to make sure you don’t damage the stem at all.

So I’m going to show you how to do that. I’m not going to use the yogurt pots this time. I’m going to use three inch pot. Because I want to plant them a little bit deeper. So even the plants that are quite sturdy and stocky, I will plant those a little bit deeper than they actually are in this pot. And and that, again, stimulates the growth from the roots.

How to Prick Out Seedlings (Tomatoes)

So, same process as before with the chilies. Just find where you can put your fingers without damaging the stems, turn your plant pot over. And you can see you’ve got the same thing. You’ve got roots showing down the side and in the bottom. So I’m just going to turn those back over and stand it up. So you’ve still got your solid mass of compost.

So I’ve popped a little bit of compost in the bottom of the pot. And then what I’m going to do is I’m going to do the two sturdy tomato plants first, just gently breaking them apart. And again, you can see the roots coming through. Try not to touch the roots if at all possible, and we’ll plant these slightly deeper than they were in the original container, gently filling in around the plant and then once you fill the pot just gently firm and don’t need to do any more than that.

A lot of plants will want to be set or transplanted to the same depth as they’ve germinated at. So just be careful what you do. You can plant a lot of seedlings a little bit deeper if you’ve got seedlings that are a bit leggy. I’ve got some cosmos here and some of these, you can see they’ve got slightly longer stems than others.

These, you can probably just put in half an inch deeper than they actually are. That won’t hurt them, but it just make them a bit stockier. So we can look at these two tomato plants now, these San Marzano are fairly leggy as you can see. We see how they’ve been drawn towards the light. They’ve been in exactly the same position as the other plants, but obviously they were further away from the window.

Hairs on Tomato Stems

So what I want to do is just put a little bit of compost in the bottom of the pot, drop the plants in and as you can see, it’s dropped down quite a bit into the pot. Well, that’s a good thing. So what I want to do now is fill the pot back up. Tomatoes have little white hairs and that’s where all the roots have come from. They’re the same family as the potato plant. And obviously you bury potatoes and they root from the stems as well.

Yellow Leaves on Tomato Seedlings

These ones that were leggy, they’re also going a bit yellow on the leaf and that’s a sign that there’s some nutrient deficiencies. So they were ready for pricking out anyway.

So as you can see, that’s the one that was a sturdy plant in my left hand and that’s the one that was the really leggy one, that which was at least twice the height. And you can see I brought them to a sort of similar height now. And again, when you pot them on next time, you can bury a bit deeper again so you can level it all up.