Pricking Out Seedlings

Pricking out seedlings is one of those jobs that all gardeners will at some point learn to do. But if you are new to gardening, you may be confused by the term.

What Does 'Pricking Out' Mean?

The term 'prick out' is the horticultural term for delicately easing small seedlings out from among others in a tray or other container. While some seeds can be sown individually, and will come up alone at the centre of their pots or plugs, it is not uncommon, especially when dealing with smaller sized seeds, to have to thin the seedlings out as they come up too close together.

Some other seeds actually germinate into more than one seedling. In these cases too, you will have to separate out the seedlings that form. Rather than throwing these away, pricking out allowing you to increase your stock of plants by moving these to their own separate plugs or containers.

How To Go About Pricking Out Seedlings

The process of pricking out seedlings is actually a very simple and easy one. But it is important to be prepared, and to be careful as you carry out the process, so as not to damage the fragile stems of your little plants.

  • First, prepare your new containers or soil plugs, your plant labels, growing medium and a tool to ease the little seedlings out of the soil.
  • Water the seedlings an hour or so before you begin pricking them out, to make their roots easier to withdraw, and to reduce the shock of the moves.
  • Make holes to accept each of the seedlings you plan to prick out in the growing medium of your new soil plugs or containers.
  • Grasp each seedling you want to move by a leaf, not by the stem, and use a small tool (like a dibber, lolly stick or small teaspoon) to ease it gently from the soil/ compost. Try to keep as much of the roots intact as possible.
  • Gently lower each seedling into the hole you have created for it, and firm the soil back around it.
  • Water your seedlings with a sprayer with a fine misting spray, so as not to disturb them.

Seedlings should be kept in conditions as close as possible to those in which they were growing before, and can then be hardened off with other plants and placed into their final growing positions in your garden.

Mastering this simple but important gardening technique will allow you to go from strength to strength as you grow your own food and propagate other plants from seed for your garden.