“Pricking Out”: Greatly Increase Plant Health and Yields by Transferring Seedlings from Flat to Flat Before Final Transplanting

“Pricking Out” Greatly Increase Plant Health and Yields by Transferring Seedlings from Flat to Flat Before Final Transplanting

Spring has sprung, and it’s time to get your seedlings in gear for a productive year!

In keeping with the season, I thought that this would be a good time to discuss the benefits of pricking out your seedlings before you transplant them. Many people are in the habit of simply planting their seeds in flats, and then transplanting the resulting seedlings directly in garden beds. Most don’t know that you can greatly increase plant health and yields by including a step in between planting the seeds and transplanting the seedlings, called “pricking out” in which you select the healthiest seedlings and transfer them to a slightly deeper flat to continue to grow to the correct size and hardiness, before finally transplanting them into a growing bed.

In the 1950’s Dr. C.K Snyder of the University of California-Berkeley performed a study, with globally accepted results, showing that an increase in root health of just 2% to 4% enabled field crops to produce 200% to 400% the yield. The photograph above shows the difference pricking out makes to the root systems of the seedlings.  Which seedling would you like to have growing your crops?!  Photo showing the the difference pricking out makes to the root systems of the seedlings

Some people are reluctant to take the extra time and effort to prick out seedlings – and I understand that an extra step at an already busy time of year isn’t welcome, but believe me, the results are worth it! Years ago, a GROW BIOINTENSIVE Certified Teacher candidate did not believe that pricking out would make a difference.  He had been starting lettuce seedlings in flats and then transplanted them directly into the double-dug growing bed, as most farmers do.  After being encouraged for a long time to try pricking the lettuce seedlings into a second flat, allowing them to grow to the right size and then transplanting them into the growing bed, he finally tried it. The result? He found that he reliably received double the yield of lettuce from the pricked-out seedlings, time and time again.

If you want to get the most out of your garden this year, it’s easy to learn for yourself how and when to correctly prick out seedlings for different varieties. See pp. 85-86 in the 9th edition of How to Grow More Vegetables published by Penguin/Random House 2017. Also refer to Columns E through N in the Master Charts on pages 137-187 of HTGMV.

You will be amazed!

6 Comments on ““Pricking Out”: Greatly Increase Plant Health and Yields by Transferring Seedlings from Flat to Flat Before Final Transplanting

  1. Wow. I wish I had known that before planting season started in Dallas Texas.

  2. Thank you so much for this blog and your book recommendations. It has encouraged me to prick my lettuces!

    May I ask, what, if any, do you feel are general bio-markers in seedling growth that you use to determine if it’s the right time to transplant a seedling out into the garden?

    It is a question that growers just starting to sow from seed ask us and although we have some ideas and have a certain “feel” for transplanting, if you find any pointers that would be helpful, we would greatly appreciate it.

    My husband and I love “Grow More Vegetables” and have promoted it countless times to our students. Our copy is well-worn and always nearby.

    • The point at which to transplant seedlings is when they are 2 to 3 inches high in the seedling flat. Exceptions are noted in the Master Charts of HTGlMV. Thanks for asking!

      • Thank you!!! I am writing an article on transplanting and am linking to your book and this blog.

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