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Question

Roger Doiron
My seedlings are getting too big for their pots but it's too cold to plant them outdoors. What can I do?

Answer

You're right to be concerned about seedlings that seem too big for their pots. Chances are they're becoming potbound, which means that the plant's roots have filled all the space available in the pot. When this happens, the plants can become stressed, and they won't perform as well as plants whose growth is unchecked. The best thing you can do is to repot your seedlings, putting each one into its own 2"-3"/5-7.6 cm pot (choose a pot that provides about 25 percent more root space than the seedlings have right now). This goes for purchased seedlings as well as homegrown seedlings that have gotten a bit too large for their cell packs or pots. The plants benefit from the extra root room, even if they receive only a week of extra time for growing and hardening off before being moved to the garden.True, repotting is extra work, but it allows seedlings to continue growing without interruption, which means better transplant success and better yields once plants are in the garden. If you can't plant outdoors on schedule and don't have time to repot, water with a half-strength dilution of liquid fertilizer. Reprinted from The Veggie Gardener's Answer Book Copyright 2008 by Barbara W. Ellis, with permission from Storey Publishing. Creative Commons photo credit:gezellig-girl.com

Question details

Your seedlings look plenty healthy. I agree that you should just pot them up into a larger pot. Make a note of your planting date so you can adjust it next year. It doesn't hurt to plant larger plants but I've had a couple of varieties that didn't react well. That is how I learned that cilantro doesn't like being transplanted. The funny thing is that one of the plants didn't know about the transplant rule and grew beautifully. You don't have to experiment with the whole crop but every once in a while I stick something where it doesn't belong. You only lose one plant and if it works it opens a whole new realm of possibility. I sometimes think that being a successful gardener doesn't involve the number of plants you can grow but the number you have killed. Mike DeLate Tetonia, ID USA
If your plants are in a greenhouse, potting into a larger pot is the best option, and will give your plants extra nutrients and room to grow. As long as they remain dark green and healthy you don't need to worry too much. Remember to be guided by the weather rather than the date, as seasons vary considerably from year to year. Also consider warming up a small outdoor area with cloches, horticultural fleece or sheet plastic ready to accomodate your plants just that bit sooner.

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