I have been following this walk-through on growing tomatoes from seeds: http://www.reneesgarden.com/articles/grow-tomato.htm

I have planted my seeds in the rectangular container. But I believe I have possibly over-seeded them. See the picture below on current progress.

On that link showing how to grow them, steps 7 and 8 show that you prick out the seedlings and transplant them into individual containers. My fear with my current status is that the plants are too many and too close together, and I won't be able to untangle the roots when moving them from the large container (which they are in now) to individual containers.

Any thoughts on if this is currently still ok?

(not sure if it matters, but the front half are roma tomatoes and the back half are beef steak tomatoes)


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3 Answers 3


Yes, those are very close. You can still use most of them. First, get their new (cell pots?) containers ready and make sure you have moist mix ready. Moisten it beforehand, rather than after planting, especially if it's bone dry.

To remove the seedlings from their flat:

  • Use a plastic knife, popsicle stick, or similar, and starting from one edge, push them in near a clump of seedlings and lift them out in chunks.
  • With each clump, you will need to carefully ease apart the roots, trying to disturb the soil as little as possible. With smaller seedlings I've used toothpick, but for tomatoes, I usually just use my fingers. You can use your fingers if you're confident that you won't bruise them, or you could use toothpicks (or pencils, or similar) to work apart the roots.
  • Plant them in their new pots. Put them deep, they'll grow better. Just make sure the cotyledons are at least 1/2" above the top of the mix. Plant slowly and carefully, and keep in mind that although the mix needs to be firmed, the roots will be very easily crushed, and crushed roots are susceptible to diseases like damping off.
  • Water them in, and keep them out of bright light for a while. Some wilting is normal, especially for those that came free with bare or very few roots.
  • You can begin fertilizing when they put out a couple new leaves, as that's a sign that they reestablished their root systems.

In the case that you don't need to grow that many seedlings to maturity, you won't have to repot them all. The easiest time to decide which to keep will be right after the clumps are split apart. Save the ones with the thickest stems, and the most soil on their roots. Or you can grow them all, and plant the best ones when they're ready, and give away the rest.

Also, ones that come out with almost no roots may not make it, or they may grow too slowly for good production. Losing a few isn't unusual in cases like this.

  • 2
    Thank you for the excellent answer! So you're saying go ahead and move them to their individual containers now, instead of waiting another 2-ish weeks? As for light source, I'm using a fluorescent bulb. Do you agree to keep them individually under the bulb still? It's a bit chilly at night to put them outside, I think..? (in NC, nights still get down to 40F sometimes). Thank you again for the assistance! I'm a new tomato gardener! Mar 24, 2015 at 17:14
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    @Thomas Yeah, I'd do it now. And yes, the 40F nights are still a little cold. If you could put them outside during warm days, that would be great also.
    – J. Musser
    Mar 24, 2015 at 17:20
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    Excellent! On my way to my first batch of tomato plants from seeds! Very exciting. Let there be tomatoes! Mar 24, 2015 at 17:40

No those aren't too many. Not nearly too many. I think your plants may not be getting enough light however.

Craigh Lehoullier who is known online as nctomatoman has grown and sold heirloom tomatoes for decades using a dense planting method. He is also the author of the book "Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time" and was the person who gave the tomato "Cherokee Purple" its name.

He plants up to 2,000 tomato seeds in a 50 cell tray. Check out his dense planting video. They stay densely planted like that in the plug trays for a month before he transplants them.

He has dozens of seeds in each cell which he then breaks apart for transplanting into individual pots.

  • Thank you for the information! I'll check those out. Can you expand on your comment: "I think your plants may not be getting enough light"? What are you seeing? Mar 24, 2015 at 21:59
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    @ThomasStringer They are tall and spindly. Tall means insufficient light, not great growth. Short and stocky is adequate light and good growth.
    – Ecnerwal
    Mar 24, 2015 at 22:56
  • Ok makes sense, thanks for the tip! Should I put them outside during the warm, sunny days to get the extra light? Or is that too much light? I currently have a florescent bulb shining on then during the day. Mar 25, 2015 at 0:21
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    @ThomasStringer Don't put them in direct sunlight outside. It will probably bleach them, and may stunt or kill them. However, your sun may be different than mine. Mar 25, 2015 at 0:25
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    @Ecnerwal While it's possible to have less spindly, shorter plants, it is evident that they are getting either artificial lighting or a south window. Otherwise, they would be taller and more spindly. The plants should be fine. However, I concur that more light is usually better and would help in this case, whether or not it's necessary. Mar 25, 2015 at 0:32

While the other answers are probably sufficient, I want to add my two cents.

Here's what I would do:

  • Give them plenty of light
  • When the stems get thicker, split them up

Tomatoes, when they're stronger than small seedlings, tend to be fairly tolerant of disturbed roots compared to other plants I've tried, with the possible exception of tomatillos with similarly thicker stems. I mean, you can just pull them like weeds and repot them and they'll be fine. I've done it lots of times. You don't even have to worry about disturbing or breaking the roots. As long as there are still roots on them, they should be fine. They regrow their roots quite quickly. If there are no roots, you can treat them like cuttings, which is somewhat more difficult, but it can work.

However, I must warn you to keep them out of bright sunlight for a day or two after the transplant, because plants with disturbed roots don't do well in bright sunlight. Bright artificial light may also be a problem. This is a bigger problem for cuttings rooted in soil, however, than for tomatoes with any roots at all. (Tomato cuttings rooted in water are probably more light tolerant than those rooted in soil, initially, but I recommend soil.)

Also, if you have damping off problems, when splitting them up you may want to keep as many roots on your tomatoes as possible, since pythium and such probably make breaking the roots a little riskier (but not anywhere as risky as planting a cutting rooted in water into soil with pythium in it would be: there's almost a 100% failure rate there, although maybe bright light would help; not sure about cuttings rooted in soil, because I got soil without pythium in it before I started doing that instead much).

One thing you can do to make this process more gentle on the plants is to soak them in water for a day or two after splitting them up, so they'll grow their roots out a little and heal a bit. This seems more important for peppers than tomatoes. It doesn't seem particularly important for tomatoes, but you can do it. It may increase initial light tolerance, though, but I haven't tested that in particular a lot.

Also, when you transplant them, plant the stem as deep as you can, without putting new growth in the watering zone, and perhaps without having the stem touch the bottom of the container. The plant will be more secure in the pot that way, and it will grow more roots faster (it will grow roots all along the stem). If the only new growth is in the watering zone, the plant will be weaker, grow less quickly, require more light, and might even eventually die without growing out of the watering zone.

While I said to wait until the stems are thicker, you can be successful beforehand. The plants are more tender, then, however, and it's a more delicate process to do without damage to the seedlings. They're also more susceptible to stuff. You'll also want to be a lot more careful with the roots at this point.

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