From letting them acclimatise to providing some nourishment, there’s a few simple steps to follow when planting vegetable seedlings in your garden. Here’s everything you need to know.

person holding a tray of seedlings

Are you enthusiastically springing into the food gardening craze but not exactly sure where to begin?

First things first, it’s good to decide what you’re planting and whether you're choosing seeds or seedlings. Some plants actually prefer to be grown from seed, so be sure to do your research.

If you're planting seeds, we sure have the resource for you. Check out our story: Simple tips for first-time vegetable gardeners when planting seeds.

If you're planting seedlings, then we’ve got you covered with these simple tips to get your veggie patch up to scratch:

1. Don't plant straight away

After purchasing your new plants, we recommend getting your seedlings used to the local conditions by leaving them out on the ground, in the punnet, for a few days. This is called ‘hardening off’.

Giving them a couple hours of direct sunlight each day will help them adjust from their previous life in a greenhouse – which would have been really controlled – to the realities of the hot sun they are going to experience in your garden.

Keep in mind though that they will dry out quickly in the small punnets, so water them often!

2. Choose the perfect spot

Different plants like different amounts of sun.

Anything that produces a ‘fruit’ – the part we eat – like tomato, eggplant and cucumber, will need at least 8 hours of sunlight per day.

Leafy greens and herbs can do well with less but will still like at least 6 hours of sun. Planting herbs close to your kitchen can give you easy access for garnishing and adding flavour while cooking.

person adding compost to soil

3. Prepare the soil

Before you start planting, you’ll need to get the soil ready.

When planting in a pot, either buy garden soil that has compost added to it or add your own.

When planting directly into the ground:

  • The soil can’t be hard and compact, so loosen it with a garden fork. Wiggling the fork back and forth should do the trick.
  • Add some compost.

4. Get the plant in the ground

Firstly, avoid the heat of the day by planting in the early morning or early evening.

To plant your new seedlings, whether it’s in a pot or in the ground, dig a hole about the same size as the bottom of the seedling – the part that’s in the soil.

Gently remove the seedling by squeezing the sides of the tray.

Once you’ve removed it, you may like to gently loosen the roots a little, especially if they look like they’re tightly woven together.

Be mindful some plants don’t like having their stems covered with soil. Aim for the same soil level – where the soil sits on the stem – that the plant had in the punnet.

Gently pat the soil down around the plant. If it’s not at the right height, we suggest you start again.

Tomatoes are the exception as they don’t care how deep you bury them.

5. Give them some nourishment

Give your freshly planted seedlings a big drink of water and some liquid seaweed treatment, to lessen the shock of transplanting.

Then, add some mulch around the plant, leaving a gap between the mulch and the stem.

watering tomato seedlings

How often should I water seedlings?

Seedlings – except for capsicum and chilli – should be watered every day. Capsicum and chilli plants like moist soil, but not wet. Yep – fussy but delicious!

For all others, once they become established, they’ll be able to survive a day or 2 without water.

Established plants – think of them as the teenagers of the plant world – have new growth and are significantly bigger in size. Once your seedling has doubled in size, it will be much stronger than when it was a little seedling.

If your veggie garden is in pots, you might find that it needs to be watered twice a day in the heat of summer as pots dry out quicker than the ground. Little pots have lots of surface area and dry out even faster than bigger ones.

Mulching is an excellent way to stop your soil from drying out. Pea straw is a good choice, and you may get the added benefit of pea shoots with pretty, edible flowers growing in and around your vegetables.

Alternatively, check out wicking beds, which are the crème de la crème of water smart gardening.

Find out more local food gardening tips

Seedlings are a great way to give you a head-start but some things prefer to be grown from seed. Knowing how to grow from seed will expand your options and be more economical.

Discover 9 vegetables best grown from seed.

Just beginning your food gardening journey? Head to our hub for more tips and tricks.

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