The Importance of Transplanting Tomatoes

We've watched them grow up from seeds, smiling at them once they broke the soil surface, given them the best growing conditions available.

Maybe you've even talked to them giving encouragement as new leaf buds appear, adjusting the grow lights first to the right and then to the left trying to maximize the leaf exposure to the artificial rays.

But now, they seem to be languishing, their grow rate has declined.

Or like me, you dropped two seeds into a planting hole and both seeds germinated.

double tomato plant needing transplanting

Whatever the case, reduced growth rates, crowded root conditions, double plantings, leaves fighting each other for light. Eventually, we need to transplant our seedlings, whether they be tomatoes, peppers, or any other seed start.

Transplanting Tomatoes From My Double Cups

My tomato seeds were planted three seeds to a faux Solo cup. The top area of a 16-oz plastic cup is about 11 square inches. So three plants in one container is a bit too much.

I knew this going in and planned on transplanting them so only one plant is growing in a cup.

But three issues have popped up that has made me need to transplant sooner than I wanted.

The first (shown in the image above) is that somehow I doubled up seeds in some of the planting holes.

The second is that my original potting mix was too heavy and needed perlite added to allow for better oxygen exchange between the soil and air.

dense seed starting mix for tomatoes

The third reason, that I expect is a cause for slow growth, is the grow lights that were over the tomato and pepper plants. I had a Unifun grow light over the plants and that might also be a reason for my perceived slow growth.

Below is the same Unifun lights shining over some salad mix. Notice the reddish-purple light. Not sure tomato and pepper plants care for this light source. Once transplanted I'm moving the tomatoes and peppers to a new light source.

Unifun grow lights for seed starts

Too Many Variables To Tell

There's no way of knowing which of the three issues is the biggest contributor to the slow growth. 

Regardless, the plants need a boost and since I need to transplant the tomatoes and peppers at some point I decided to do it sooner than later.

Ideally, the plants should be a bit taller and more sturdy before transplanting. The lack of growth pushed the issue and I went ahead and separated the plants.

The video below shows the process and I'll discuss it in more detail after the video.

The Process of Transplanting Tomatoes

The tomatoes are grown via the double cup method, and the transplanting is going back into the double cups.

The size of the faux solo cups will be great once they're full of roots and ready to be transplanted again into their larger growing containers (in my case) or to be given away for other people to plant into their gardens.

The double cup method, also allows for bottom watering of the plants keeping the surface of the soil drier and less susceptible to disease.

Materials Needed for Transplanting Tomatoes

  • Two 16-oz plastic cups (one whole, the other with holes in the bottom)
  • A pointed and relatively flat spoon
  • A potting soil mix
  • Compost bin
  • Spray bottle

The purpose of the cups should be obvious. The spoon is to slide down the side of the growing cup to pry up the starts. Change from a seed starting mix to a potting soil in the new transplant cup. The compost bin is for the old seed start mix. And the spray bottle is to wet the potting soil surface so the newly exposed roots don't dry out in the new potting mix.

How to Transplant Tomatoes

The old mix should be moist so it will stick together. Slide the spoon down the side of the cup and gently pry up a seed start.

If it's a double start, try to carefully pull the plants apart without damaging the roots. If it seems impossible, it will be better to sacrifice one of the plants (more on this later).

Keep as much of the small root ball intact as possible. If the soil does come off, it's okay, it will work fine but more care will need to be taken.


Keep as much soil around the plants as you can.

tomato plant transplanting

If the soil comes off, it's okay, make a deeper hole in the new soil.

Fill the new transplant container with potting soil. This time I used Royal Gold Basement Mix. The soil is coconut coir based and seems very nice. I'll let you know which soil works best for me after some experimenting. 

Make a depression in the soil mix to fit the tomato root ball, or a deeper more narrow hole if the soil came off the roots. 

Place the plants roots into the depression and push soil around the roots. When you finish, the plant should be very secure and not lean or move when the container is handled. 

Click the images to see larger photos.

transplanting tomatoes
transplanted tomato

With tomatoes, you can plant the starter deeper than the original growth depth. For transplanting the plant the first time I try to plant it at the same depth.

Once the plant is larger, and ready to go into it's final container, or into the ground, I will plant it deeper.

All that is left is to water the newly transplanted tomato plant. First I make sure to use a spray bottle to wet the soil surface, and follow that up with a bottom watering. 

That's It! You're Done

The tomato is successfully transplanted. That's all there's to it. These plants will go under a new set of grow lights and good news for them is that we get more natural sunlight this time of year.

Once the plants have reached a new stage of growth, I'll be sure to link the new post right here so you can follow along on their journey if you'd like. 

Pepper Transplants

The process is the same for peppers as it is for tomatoes. Be careful, though, peppers are a bit more tender than tomato starts. You have to handle them very gentle.

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transplanting tomatoes
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About the Author T.Marsh

Hi, my name is Todd. My View From the Woods documents my journey of gardening, growing microgreens, preserving food, searching for a homestead, and hiking with my new Springer Spaniel, Caden.

Follow me on Instagram at @myviewfromthewoods

  • Nice tutorial. It is well written, with helpful pictures.

    • Thank you! I have a new video coming out soon with some modifications that produce a better root system. Most likely, the video will be published on My View From The Woods YouTube channel and the article on

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