Potting On The Tomato And Basil Seedlings

basil starts in jiffy pelle

First published May 8, 2011 – It’s early May, and the tomatoes are now well established in the seeding trays, ready to move into larger pots.

They have been ready to move for at least three weeks now, but it’s funny how bad weather outside makes one not believe the reality that spring is coming, and even some indoor garden chores get neglected.

Tomato seedlings on right were moved out to greenhouse earlier than the ones on the left.

Most of the tomatoes have remained in the laundry room under the lights until now. However, this does make them lanky and weak. The one variety that I did move out to the greenhouse earlier looks shorter and stronger than the ones in the house. As this was my first try at “tough love” with the seedlings, I was hesitant to move all of them out at once.

This is my main lesson learned this spring—pot the seedlings on earlier; get them into real soil as soon as possible, where they will grow sturdy and strong.

I started some of the tomatoes and all of the basil in the Jiffy Pellets, as mentioned in my blog on April 3.  The basil is better than previous crops; it has remained short and healthy, not leggy. I think the mix in the Jiffy Pellets may be well suited to its needs. They too are ready for larger pots and real soil.

Basil starts in Jiffy pellets.

The tomatoes grown in the Jiffy Pellets seem to have a smaller root mass than those started in starter mix, yet the tops are significantly bigger. This was a surprise. The clean and easy process of growing in these pellets may well make the slower root growth worth it, but the final product is all that matters, so I’ll let you know.

Remember, each time you pot your tomatoes up to a larger pot, strip off lower leaves and bury the plant a little deeper.  The soil mix for the 4” pot stage can be just sterilized potting soil, but Linda’s book Backyard Bounty gives a recipe you can make yourself; 1 part each finished compost (either home-grown or purchased), perlite or vermiculite, coir or peat, and the best garden soil you have; (home-grown or purchased). I must confess that the mix I used was simply the Growell bagged garden soil we sell at the nursery, amended liberally with the seed starting mix, which is primarily the other ingredients anyway.  I will fertilize weekly, alternating half strength solutions of liquid seaweed with liquid fish.

Don’t be too eager to move your newly potted seedlings outside, they must be hardened off slowly; bringing them in each night until the minimum temperature is reliably 12 degrees or above. This year, it may be July!!!  An unheated greenhouse or cold frame is the best place for them now,  but be careful to leave the door open when (or if!) there is any sun, it can very quickly get too hot. Plants need to get used to sunshine and wind just as much as they need to get used to the cold.

It’s still too cold outside for the basil, so while they will benefit from the better soil and more room in a 4” pot, keep them inside under the lights until it warms up and eventually pot them up into larger containers; I find basil just doesn’t do well in the ground.

Around the May long weekend, or early June this year, the tomatoes should be tough enough to be planted outside; I’ll write more about this later, but you want to get them as big and strong as possible before this move.

For those looking for seedlings to purchase, now is a good time to buy them in 4” pots or the 6 pack, and follow the potting up routine above.  Summer will come, even if late, and you don’t want to miss those juicy red fruits along with basil, good bread, balsamic……….