Without fail, every time I hear the term ‘pricking out’ my inner ten-year-old falls apart giggling. Because it’s RUDE!
It’s not really, but it does sound like it ought to be. Pricking out (::snort::) is when you transplant a seedling from its propagator into larger accommodation. Once your seedlings get to a certain size, life in a propagator tray just doesn’t cut it, as being cramped does not a happy seedling make. Rather it needs more space so that its leaves can spread and its roots extend.
Though this is all really quite exciting, it’s important to note that not all your seedlings will make it. You need to be a bit ruthless and only prick out (::snort giggle::) the best, healthy seedlings. Those scraggly puny ones are destined for the compost heap. Regardless, this should really only be done once a seedling has begun to develop ‘true leaves’, rather than their ‘training leaves’ (or ‘seed leaves’), but as you can see I was impatient and so the new set of leaves had only just begun to make themselves known.
Before a seedling can be moved, its new home must be prepared. This can be an ordinary 3-inch deep seed-tray, one of those a cellular seed-tray or an individual pot. You can use a biodegradable pot for this if the plant is to be moved out into the garden. The best ones are those made from peat or unbleached paper, which you can later plant straight into the ground without disturbing the plant again. I chose a medium-small container for mine to go into, a few sizes up from the one it was sown in, as it will be living there for a while.
No matter what type of container you use, a good potting compost, gently firmed down, is best for a newly pricked out (::snort giggle guffaw::) seedling. Before you get started transplanting, its a very good idea to water both the original container and the new container (allowing about an hour for it to drain through) because this will make the job much easier for you and your seedling.
Transplanted seedlings normally need to be at least 1 1/2 inches into the soil in their new home, so once the soil has drained through, use your finger or dibber (a funnel-shaped tool, such as the ones at the bottom of this page or this slightly more modern one) to loosen up a wee hole so that the seedling root ball (::hahahahahaha::), just large enough to take the roots.
Remove one seedlings at a time from the original container by carefully loosening the compost around and under the seedling using a small dibber.
As you can see, I don’t have a traditional dibber, so I improvised with a knitting needle (3 mm, should you be interested). Lift the seedling out by holding the seed leaves (the lower pair) and for goodness sake avoid holding them by the stem or roots, as this will put far too much strain on the poor thing.
Position the seedling so that the seed leaves are a bit above the top of the compost and gently fill in the hole around the roots. Firm down so that there are no air pockets left under the seedling. At this I also like to earth up a little (push the soil so that it’s a bit higher up around the stem) to give the seedling a bit more support.
After all the seedlings have been transplanted, give them a good misting or a very gentle watering (hand watering would be good here). Then place them in a warm but shaded spot, out of direct sunlight, for a few days so that they get used to their new environment.
After that, continue to water and feed as necessary until you have a plant.
A real plant!