How To Transplant Seedlings [Herb Garden Series]

It’s finally time to transplant my little herb seedlings!!! We planted seeds six weeks ago, and they’ve being doing great so far.

{How to} Transplanting seedlings

Before we get started I want to share some useful info I’ve discovered throughout this process.

When should I transplant my seedlings?

Transplanting your seedlings can be really hard on your plants, so you need to make sure that they are strong enough to withstand the shock. There are a couple of different guidelines for when your seedlings are ready to be transplanted. A lot of people say you should transplant 5 to 6 weeks after planting, but I think there are some better indicators than simply how long the plants have been growing.

You definitely should not transplant your seedlings until they have grown their “true leaves”. The first set of leaves that sprout out of the ground are called cotyledons and they are actually part of the seed. They are basically a source of food for the plants and contain the nutrients the seedling needs to grow. The next set of leaves that sprout can look very different (look at the close ups of the dill, some leaves are long and skinny and some are frond-y, very different!) and they are the plants’ true leaves. Up until this point the plants don’t actually need sunlight; they aren’t photosynthesizing because all of their nutrients come from the cotyledons. So at the very least, wait until your plants have their first set of true leaves before transplanting!

Top: true basil leaves, bottom: roots growing out of the bottom of the pellets
Top: True leaves on our basil seedlings, Bottom: Roots growing every which way!


But don’t wait too long either! If you started your seeds in a small pot they will have a fair bit of room to grow. We started ours in seed starting pellets which are a lot smaller, so I didn’t want to wait too long before transplanting or the roots would have run out of room to grow. In the top picture above you can see the first true leaves of our basil seedlings. And in the other two pictures you can see that the roots of the basil and the catnip have grown all the way out of the bottom of the pellet!

How do I transplant my seedlings?

So if your seedlings are ready to be transplanted let’s get started! You’ll need:

  • your seedlings
  • pots (I painted the ones in the picture above and added little chalkboard paint labels, you can check out the tutorial here)
  • a trowel
  • a few rocks
  • potting soil
  • perlite
  • a container to mix the soil in
  • water

A quick note: Perlite is basically volcanic glass and it’s available at most hardware stores or anywhere you would buy potting soil. The perlite is not 100% necessary, but it’s highly recommended. Because of some sort of complicated, science-y thing, perlite helps prevent soil compaction. If the soil is compacted it will have difficulty absorbing water and the plants’ roots can have trouble growing through the tightly pressed soil. So, not necessary but you probably should use it anyway. 🙂

First you’ll want to mix 3 parts potting soil and 1 part perlite in a container with your trowel. Make sure it’s mixed well!

Perlite and potting soil mixture
The little white specks are perlite granules


Then add a few of the rocks to the bottom of your pot. This will help the pot drain better and stop the soil from leaking out of the hole at the bottom.

Using small rocks to help drainage

Fill the pot with the potting soil mixture, but make sure to leave some room at the top. Tamp down the soil a bit; you don’t want it loose and fluffy, but you don’t want it totally caked down and solid. You want enough room on top of the soil to set the seedling there and have the base of the stem come up to just below the top of the pot. Alternatively you can fill the pot all the way up and then dig a hole to place the seedlings in, but I think this way is easier. 🙂

Seedlings ready for transplanting

At this point you have to prep your seedlings for transfer. If you grew them in a smaller pot you want to place your hand on top of the soil, seedling between your fingers for support, and turn the pot over. Shake it a bit to get the plant to fall out. Very gently break the root ball apart with your fingers right at the very bottom; leave the rest intact! Then place the seedling on top of the soil.

If you grew your seedlings in little pellets like I did you’ll need to remove the “skin” around the soil of the plant. You can make a slit with a knife or scissors and then pull the rest of it apart.

Removing the "skin" from the seedling pellet

If your seedlings have a fairly solid root ball (meaning the soil at the base of the seedling is very well held together by the plants’ roots) you can break it up a bit (very gently!) right at the very bottom. Then place the seedling on top of the soil.

Breaking apart the root ball for transplanting

One important thing to think about when you transplant your seedlings is how big of a pot they will need. The general consensus is that you should have one plant per pot for pots 8″ or smaller. If you’re using 10″ or larger pots you might be able to get away with multiple plants per pot.

I decided to ignore this and put two seedlings in our pots for two reasons. First, I am a little bit worried that the seedlings might not survive the shock of the transplant and this way I get two chances. Second, we are not too worried about these plants being “stunted”; if they are a little smaller than they possibly could be that is okay with us. And worst case, if there truly isn’t room for two plants to grow properly in one pot we can always thin one later. This just gives us more options.

Two seedlings in a pot

Once you have your seedlings in the pot, fill the rest of the space with soil and tamp it down gently again. You want the soil to just reach the base of the seedling’s stem. Don’t pile the soil up too far on the stem; you don’t want the leaves of the plant to get wet if water pools up when you water it.

Transplanted seedlings

Now the plants need a bit of water. Water them gently; don’t get the leaves of the plant wet, and make sure the water isn’t so forceful that it leaves divots in the top of the soil. Tiny tiny holes are ok, that’s just the soil settling in after its first watering, but you don’t want holes the size of a dime or larger, that’s bad. Water until some water just starts to drain out of the drainage hole at the bottom.

And you’re done! Don’t forget to put your plants back in the windowsill so they continue to get sun. 🙂

Transplanted dill

The spearmint and rosemary aren’t quite ready to be transplanted; they just sprouted about two weeks ago so they’re still pretty fragile and tiny. But I got four of the herbs transplanted this weekend! We don’t actually have room in our windowsill for six pots (only three will fit across on the sill) so we hacked together a shelf real quick so we can have two layers of plants.

Three flower pots in a windowsill

Do you have any plants growing right now? Are they in pots or outdoors?


This post is part of a series about growing herbs indoors. You can see the rest of the posts in the series here.


I link up at these awesome parties!

Jessi Wohlwend

I believe that anyone can do crafts and DIY projects, regardless of skill or experience. I love sharing simple craft ideas, step by step DIY project tutorials, cleaning hacks, and other tips and tricks all with one goal in mind: giving you the tools you need to “do it yourself”, complete fun projects, and make awesome things!

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Reader Interactions

  1. Angie says

    4 years ago

    Oops, didnt know i shouldnt wet tje leaves. I water my seedlings using a spray bottle so i dont get to drown them. But of course their leaves get wet?

    • Jessi Wohlwend says

      4 years ago

      Some plants don’t mind a light misting; I like to use a spray bottle on my house plants to help them get enough water without it overflowing all over the floor or windowsill. And of course, it won’t hurt the plants to get wet, they can be outside in the rain and be just fine. But in general when the leaves get wet there’s the chance they will start to mold or rot if they don’t dry out fully, so it’s better to just carefully water the soil at the base of the plant.

  2. Ted says

    6 years ago

    “The general consensus is that you should have one plant per pot for pots 8″ or smaller. If you’re using 10″ or larger pots you might be able to get away with multiple plants per pot.”

    Do you mean in diameter or circumference?

    • Jessi Wohlwend says

      6 years ago

      Pots are measured by their diameter, so an 8″ pot has an 8″ diameter.

  3. Rebecca says

    10 years ago

    Thank you so much for the beautiful article and pictures. Very helpful!

  4. sara says

    11 years ago

    Help! While I’ve found your site so helpful I’m left bewildered. You said that the cotlydons provide the seedling with nutrients and that they don’t need sunlight until the true leaves appear. Problem is that my seedlings shot up about 8 inches bending at the top of my covered seedling tray, which was kept indoors on a warming pad. What happened? I read that this was because they were starved for light but if this is the case it contradicts what you wrote. I’ve read both that the seeds need 12-16 hours of light a day and that they need none.

    In effort to save them I read that I could replant them deeper so I did. Nevertheless, I’m sad and fear they’ve met their makers.

    • Jessi @ Practically Functional says

      11 years ago

      It is true that seedlings start to get “leggy” if they are starved for sunlight, meaning the stems grow very long and towards the sun with only a few pairs of leaves on a long, skinny, mostly bare stem. This can happen at any time during the plant’s life cycle: right when the seedlings pop up out of the ground, once they are fully grown, or any time in between! Once your seedlings come up out of the ground and are about half an inch tall, I would take the lid off the seedling tray and stick them in a window. They will need sun right away, and you definitely don’t want them growing up into the lid!

      The cotyledons do contain enough nutrients to support the plants growth from a seed into a small baby seedling, but once it sprouts up out of the ground it will need sunlight to continue growing. With enough sunlight you should be able to save your leggy seedlings. Ours were very tall and skinny right when they first sprouted, but they filled out eventually. Just make sure they get tons of light and enough water. And if they are very leggy, you can prop them up a bit by sticking a toothpick in the soil so they don’t topple over from their own weight. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

      • Andy Stout says

        5 years ago

        Transfer basil but think it’s going south… applied 100% soil no perlite…anyhow i like yours a lot..
        Red thumb

  5. Becca@Tree Removal Melbourne says

    12 years ago

    The whole process of raising vegetable garden plants, such as tomatoes, from seedlings is really such an easy one! Once you get over wanting to raise every seedling to mature plant and learn to thin them, thinning will become second nature. Nice post!

  6. Betsy @ Romance on a Dime says

    12 years ago

    This is such a great series!! I'm loving it – very helpful. I want to start my own herb garden. Thanks for posting this and linking up to Romance on a Dime. I'm pinning this!

  7. Connie says

    12 years ago

    Hi Jessi: I'm Connie at, your new GF friend. I would love it if you stop by and be mine, too.
    I am the title of your blog, practically. Thanks for sharing, I so wish I could have a garden…..

  8. JULIE says

    12 years ago

    thanks for the information!

  9. Debra Kapellakis says

    12 years ago

    Those pots are perfect.

  10. Diane says

    12 years ago

    Great step by step instructions. I am hosting my 2nd blog hop on Tuesday Called "The Gathering Spot" I would love it if you would link up a post to share. Have a wonderful evening. Diane @

  11. Kendra @ A Proverbs 31 Wife says

    12 years ago

    I love your pots! Is that chalkboard paint you used?

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