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Pricking out seedlings

Pricking out Seedlings

Here is an introductory guide on what to do next with your chilli seedlings.  You will need to prick them out!

By now your chillies have germinated and they probably have developed 2 main leaves. 
This is the time to prick them out and pot them individually into dedicated pots.  

Pricking out and potting on are actually different things.. but are easily confused.
  • Pricking out is moving seedlings ‘bare-root’ from pots or ‘seed 
    trays’ to pots where seedlings can grow on  individually rather than in clumps.
  • Potting on is giving seedlings already on their own in pots or modular trays more space to grow by giving them larger pots  (for example moving a repotting a chilli plants from a 4cm pot to a 7cm pot)

For this article, we are talking about pricking out.

time to prick these out

1) Firstly prepare a pot of modular tray by filling with a good compost.  We use John Innes No. 2 Compost to pot-on seedlings, but any good quality compost will be fine.  Sieve the soil to break up any lumps.  Firm the surface with something flat (such as the bottom of another pot) or tap down.   If using individual pots, do not use anything larger than a 7cm pot so that moisture in the soil is concentrated around the seedlings roots.

prepare the pots

2) Start pricking out seedlings when large enough to handle. Don’t hold them by their stem or growing tip as both are easily crushed.  Instead we recommend that you use a pencil, a dibber or ice lolly stick to lever them out. Lift with as much root and moist compost as possible.  If you get a clump of compost with multiple seedlings, lift out and carefully separate.  Select the strongest looking seedlings if you only have a limited amount of pots.

pricking out seedling

3) Using a pencil or dibber, make a hole in the new compost deep and wide enough to hold the root system and gently lower the roots of the seedling into the hole, pushing back the compost and lightly firming with your fingers. Tap pot to level compost and remove air pockets.

Prepare a hole

                          plant seedling 


4) Water with fine rose ended watering can to settle the compost around the root. Turn the rose upwards when watering to prevent disruption on the soil surface.  We do not tend to give them feed at this time as they will get the nutrients they require from the compost. They only need feeding when they get their second  set of leaves or true-leaves as they are also called.

water well

5) Make sure to label the pots/trays as most chilli varieties at this stage look exactly the same! Use a permanent marker or a pencil.

If the seedlings are leggy which tends to happen when there is inadequate light and they strive to grow towards the nearest light source,  this is not the end of the world.  Prick them out very carefully and plant them slightly deeper in the new pots.   

For germination, seeds need heat more than anything else.  Seedlings on the other hand have different requirements. They will want as much light as possible.     Seedlings like a warm compost (around 20C), so a warming mat or heating tray is a good idea.suntunnels Watch out for aphids.

We wouldn't recommend putting seedlings in an unheated polytunnels until the last of the frosts. However we do but we cover the seedlings with "suntunnels" which are like big propagator lids.  In the evening when it starts to get colder, we then cover the tunnels with a layer of bubblewrap and several layers of fleece.

An alternative is to give them artificial lights such as a fluorescent tube lights which can be bought from any DIY store. If you are using artificial lights, make sure the tubes or bulbs are kept away from the seedlings. Lights can also give off heat which can burn and kill your little seedlings.  We do not use artificial lights as our nursery runs off solar and wind powder. We just do not have enough power to run extra lights constantly.

If you keep your seedlings inside and aren't using artificial lighting, just make sure they get turned round regularly so that they don't all grow in one direction (i.e towards the window!)


We will have a potting on guide in a few weeks.