How To Grow Your Tomatoes On

A common question we get asked is, 'What is pricking out?' One friend snorted a drink out their nose when we said we had to get home to get some pricking out done. After they stopped laughing and we convinced them that it had nothing to do with what goes on in a bedroom; they stopped crying and it was several moments before they pulled themselves together and said, 'I preferred it when I thought it was filthy'. Pricking out, innuendo aside, is often confusing when written about, so rather than do another post on pricking out or potting on (which has absolutely nothing to do with what you think it has) we decided to do a short film at the end of this post (filmed by D who is turning into a right Cecil B. Demille. It took five takes before he was happy and in one take he just laughed all the way through at Andrew, telling him to slow down, look at the camera and not to be rude). Unfortunately, if we strip it back the whole of the gardening world is full of innuendo and earthy language, anyway we are off to sow some seed (no, not oats).

seed trays

We are pricking out tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) in this post, the variety was sowed by D was called Tomato Sweet Aperitif. He wanted to take all the photos and film the pricking out because he felt he wasn't quite there to hold a seedling without crushing it.

Pricking out, life on pig row

When pricking out a seedling you must always hold it by a true leaf (a true leaf is what the plant will look like when it's grown). A simple thing to remember is that if you damage a leaf it will grow back, if you damage the stem, it's gone. You may think you have the lightest touch going but imagine a giant picking you up, and you get the idea how easy it is to break things.

Tomato plants

You don't need fancy dibbers (another term that confuses non-gardeners or newbies), a dibber is just a tool to tease the roots out. We're using a pencil but we have used chop sticks, old plant labels and one year the end of an old toddler toothbrush. A dibber teases the roots out, you never yank up a seedling, you hold it by the leaf and loosen the soil around the roots, it will come away naturally and slowly.


You should end up with a seedling like this. Note the long roots, you should have teased these out with your dibber, working the compost loose and you will see a long tap root and other fibrous roots. If you come away with no roots, you have pulled the plant out and torn them loose. Remember, you are a giant and they are easily stomped on.


You simply then make a hole in your chosen new pot with your dibber. This pot can be anything, an old yoghurt pot with holes in the bottom, toilet rolls, newspaper pots or in our case a six cell tray (the kind you get in nurseries full of bedding plants). Make the hole deep, we prefer going down deep (we are not making innuendos), then gently poke the roots in (give over, it's not mucky), and plunge the plant in. You can plant tomatoes deeper because they'll just send out more roots from the stem if they are leggy.

Seedling in a pot

Then gently firm around the new plant, and continue to prick out the remaining seedlings. Don't forget to water them at the end. Remember, these seedlings have just had a massive shock and when we have a shock we tend to have a drink or two.

Tomato plants

Finally, if none of that made a jot of sense and you're still scratching your head, watch this film which does everything we've just said but in a way that you rewind and watch time after time, whilst thinking, 'Hey, you guys!'*

* Goonies reference.


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