If I wasn't a gardener, I really don't know what I would think of this term meant if someone mentioned it to me!
To prick out is to gently remove seedlings that have been sown together closely in order to give them more room to grow. If germinated seeds are left to crowd each other, none of them will grow to their full potential and they will strangle each other as they compete for light, nutrients and soil.
I've been outside in the greenhouse this morning, pricking out and I thought I'd share how I go about it. (I'm sure there are loads of different ways and each person would develop their own preferred method - I'd love to hear yours if you have a spare moment!).
So, to start off with, I have some heirloom tomato seeds that were sown a couple of weeks ago in the greenhouse. They were a little slow to germinate as we had an unexpected cold snap...
They were sown in a repurposed plastic tray in commercial seed raising mix.
As these tomatoes are going to be grown in our garden (that is, not destined for the daughter's plant stall or the school fete), I am pricking them out into newspaper pots, which can be then planted straight into the ground when the time comes..
here, although with these particular pots, I recall using an empty corn chip tube to creat a wider pot than my usual favourite tumbler!
The pots are filled with the growing medium. I prefer to use a commercial potting mix as I have had trouble in the past with seedlings 'damping off' (dying of fungal attack) in homemade potting mix.
Using a small twig or skewer, make small holes in each pot, approximately 1-2cm wide by about 2-3cm deep. This measurement may change, depending on what type of seeds you are planting, how large their roots are and whether or not you are aiming to develop roots on their buried stems...
Ever so gently, 'prick' the small seedling out of the tray, carefully using the stick to loosen the roots so it can be removed with minimal damage. Some people like to prick out when seedlings develop their first 'true' leaves (or second set of leaves) - as you can see, my seedlings don't have their first true leaves yet. I have been pricking out this way for several years and find it the most successful way for my method.
To remove the seedling at this stage, gently hold it by a leaf between your thumb and forefinger. It may seem to make more sense to clasp it by the stem but trust me, your little plant is much more tougher in the leaves and holding it this way is less likely to cause damage. Stems can be delicate little life centres!
|Easing the seedling out by gently loosening the roots with a small twig|
Some seedlings can have their stems buried to encourage extra root growth. Tomatoes fall into this category. Fill in the hole around the seedling using the stick to move the potting mix into place.
|The tomato seedling, transferred to newspaper pot with the majority of stem buried to encourage extra root growth.|
Lastly, remember to label. Very important! That is, if you want to remember what's what. If not, throw caution to the wind and look forward to those garden surprises that summer brings. Today I'm using cut up milk cartons. Pop sticks also make great garden labels that have the added benefit of being compostable.
As I was pricking out further seedlings, I came across this little guy below. The pic shows just how amazing seeds are - the seed is cracked open and the stem with leaves is shooting up towards the light, while the long tap root has emerged from underneath to seek out moisture and very soon, nutrients.
|Isn't nature truly amazing??|
Once their second set of leaves form (first true leaves), I'll change their watering to a diluted worm juice solution and increase the frequency.
I placed my pots into the recently cleaned out cold frame in our courtyard which receives the morning sun.
How do you like to start your seeds off?