How to Separate Seedlings Without Killing Them | 5 Easy Ways

Tiny seedlings have delicate roots so it is important to take care when separating them. To separate seedings without killing them there are 5 easy techniques that will work. These include lifting them gently with a knife, separating with a chopstick or stick, pulling apart seedlings in punnets or separating them in water.

This article will explore the top 5 ways to separate seedlings without killing them for you to try at home. If you have raised a tray of seed, bought them from a store or are growing them directly in your bed, these methods are for you.

5 Ways to Separate Seedlings without Killing Them

Here are my 5 easy ways to separate seedlings without killing them at home. There are easy methods for seeds growing in the ground and in pots or punnets.

1. Use a knife

One of the easiest ways to separate small seedlings that are growing close together like tomatoes, lettuce, onions or petunias is to lift them gently with a knife. Grab an old pointed garden knife and dig it in the soil next to the seedling. Gently lift the soil from underneath the plant until it loosens the roots.

Grab the seedling from its first leaf or from under the roots and gently lift it from the soil. Make a new hole with the tip of your knife and gently place the plant and its roots in. Press the soil around the seedling gently to  hold it in.

Go back to the original seedling that you separated it from and press the soil back around the roots. Both seedlings will be fine and will recover. Gently water both the seedlings again with a spray or mist to settle them back into the soil.

2. Use a chopstick or stick

Use an old chopstick to separate small and young seedlings. Chopsticks are small and will enable you to lift and separate seedlings without damaging them.

Press the chopstick in the soil around ¼ of an inch away from the seedling stem. Press it in around 2-3 inches and gently lift the seedlings up. Aim to lift just one seedling out more than the other.

Once the seedlings roots have been loosened, grab it by its first leaf and gently lift it out. It should come out of the soil without damaging the roots.

Dig a small hole with your chopstick in the new area you will be planting. Press the soil back gently around new seedling and the one left in its original space.

Do not use the chopstick in your kitchen again. Keep it outside and use it as your seedling separator.

3. Pull apart punnets

Separating seedlings in punnets is actually easier as you have the whole plant and its roots you can access. If your seedlings are growing in one whole punnet, tip the whole thing out so you can see what you are working with.

For larger seedlings like petunias or violas, you can gently grab and separate the seedlings with your fingers. For a group of 6, gently grab the first 2 seedlings on the end and pull them away from the other 4. Then grab the 2 and gently pull them apart, trying your best to avoid tearing the roots.

For onion seedlings you can tip the whole punnet out. You can wash or shake the excess soil away from the roots and bulbs completely. Gently pull the onion seedlings apart and lay them where you will be planting. For the easiest method, make a furrow and lay the seedling on their side. You can then cover them with soil and they will naturally stand back up again.

4. Separate in water

For very delicate seedlings that are growing very close together you can separate them in water. Take the 2 seedlings with the roots and soil and gently submerge the roots into water. Shake them gently so the soil falls away.

At the same time you can gently pull the seedlings apart. They should come away easily in the water without damaging the roots.

Make 2 new holes for the separated plants and place them in their new homes. Make sure you have the holes ready to make it easier to get them back into the soil fast. Gently press the soil back around the roots and water them in gently with a mister.

If you are using this method with tomato plants, avoid getting their leaves wet. This will help to avoid mold or disease spreading to their leaves.

5. Use a fork

An old kitchen fork is a great way to lift and separate seedling that are growing in the ground. Push the fork in the soil around 2 inches away from the seedling around 2 inches deep. Gently lift the seedling when it feels loose in the soil.

The seedling should lift easily out of the soil with its roots in tact. If the seedling next to it has lifted as well, gently press it back into the soil if want to keep it where it is.

You can lift this seedling out of the soil as well if you are aiming to transplant it into a new space.

How to Separate Seedlings without Killing Them | Summary

Seedlings can be separated without killing them by using a kitchen fork, chopsticks, old garden knife or even gently with your fingers. Most seedlings will recover quickly if they are planted into improved soil and are watered gently straight after they have been transplanted.

Remember to keep seedlings moist until they have established well in their new space. Seedlings grown in punnets can be kept in a greenhouse with to help them to settle in. Gradually move them out into full sun over time so they don’t get burnt.