Learn how to germinate and when to transplant your seedlings so you get the fastest growth. This step-by-step tutorial includes pictures plus hints and tips! It is crucial to transplant marijuana plants at the right time. It is also crucial to do it correctly. Do either wrong, and you can do a lot of damage… As cannabis plants get bigger they need to be moved into bigger containers to allow their roots to expand, so they can thrive. Read more on how to transplant marijuana.
How to Germinate & Transplant Cannabis Seedlings
In this tutorial, you’ll learn how (and when) to transplant your new cannabis seedlings so they grow as fast as possible!
Did you know that seedlings in solo cups often grow faster than seedlings started in big containers?
The reason some growers transplant their plants instead of starting them in their final container is that seedlings usually grow faster during the first few weeks of their life if you start them in something small like a solo cup. The growing medium dries out much faster in a smaller container, which means your seedling roots are always getting access to lots of oxygen at all times. It also makes it more difficult to overwater your plants!
If you start seedlings in a solo cup, you should try to transplant to a bigger pot around the time the leaves reach the edges of the cup. This seedling is ready for transfer!
If seedlings get too big for their cups before transplanting to a bigger container, you may accidentally limit your plant’s root space. This slows down growth and can cause puzzling deficiencies! So if you do start in small containers it’s important to transplant your seedlings on time to avoid letting them become rootbound!
“Rootbound” seedlings are often droopy and may display odd symptoms that are hard to explain. If seedlings are rootbound you’ll see during the transfer process that the roots have wrapped all the way around the outsides of the container, preventing the plant roots from doing what they need to do. Try to transfer to a bigger pot before this point!
For many growers, it’s simpler to start plants in their final containers. Although your seedlings may grow slightly slower at first, you never have to worry about transplanting them. You also avoid the possibility of shocking them during the transplant process.
That being said, if you want the fastest growth from your seedlings and don’t mind transplanting, starting in small containers like solo cups may be the way to go.
The truth is, your seedlings will thrive whether you start in a big or small container as long as you take good care of them! Neither way is the “best” method; it’s more a matter of personal preference.
How to Transplant Seedlings
1.) Germinate Seeds with Paper Towel Method
Before you can start transplanting, you need to germinate your seeds. I recommend the “paper towel” method for germination because this method is easy and hard to mess up! Learn About Other Ways to Germinate Seeds!
- Place your seeds inside a folded wet paper towel, and place it between two paper plates (or regular plates) so that they don’t dry out.
- Check on your seeds every 12 hours but try not to disturb them. When they’ve germinated, you’ll see the seeds have cracked and there are little white roots coming out.
- They should germinate in 1-4 days, though some seeds can take a week or longer (especially older seeds).
- Keep them warm if possible. One thing you can do to get seeds to germinate a little faster is to keep them in a warm place (75-80°F). Some people use a seedling heat mat but in most cases that’s unnecessary.
These seedlings were sprouted using the paper towel method!
Once your seeds have germinated, gently plant seeds in a solo cup about an inch deep, roots down.
Make sure to cut plenty of holes in the bottom of the solo cup first, so water can drain out the bottom easily!
Add your potting mix to the solo cup. Dig a small hole about 1-2″ deep and gently place your sprouted seed, root down, into the hole you made. Lightly fill around and cover with soil. You’ll see a seedling emerge a day or two later!
Here’s a quick cheat sheet for the paper towel germination method!
2.) Allow leaves to grow to edges of the solo cup
Your seedlings will take off in a day or two, and soon it’ll seem like they’re growing more and more each day!
Once your seedlings have grown enough that their leaves have reached the edges of the solo cup, it’s time to transplant to a bigger container!
These seedlings are begging to be transplanted to bigger pots (especially that big one on the bottom!)
Transferring to a bigger container at this stage will prevent your seedling roots from becoming rootbound and “choking” themselves because they get all wrapped around the outside of the soil. The outside circling of the roots prevents the plant from using water and nutrients properly, so you often end up with droopy seedlings and hard-to-explain nutrient deficiencies.
3.) Transplant seedlings to a 1, 2 or 3-gallon pot (then to an even bigger final container if you desire)
Instead of pulling the whole plant out of the container, sometimes you can just cut away the solo cup when you plan on transplanting. This is one of the advantages of starting in disposable cups – it makes transplanting easy and stress-free. You can also gently run a butter knife around the outside to help loosen the soil, turn it upside down and pat out the seedling, soil and all!
Transfer seedling into a new container by digging a hole the size of a solo cup, and gently placing your seedling in the new hole without disturbing the roots at all if possible, like this!
How to Avoid Transplant Shock
The process of transplanting from one container into a bigger one can shock your cannabis plants, especially if you wait too long to transplant.
You don’t want cannabis transplant shock!
You can help avoid causing your cannabis plants stress during transplant by following these principles:
- Transplant your cannabis plants after their roots have begun to fill container (to help hold all the growing medium together) but before the roots have started wrapping around the edges (plants have become rootbound).
- Water your cannabis plants 1-2 days before transplanting. This will help the growing medium stay together (since it’s moist), but still slide out easily (since it’s not soaking wet).
- It’s better to transfer too early than too late!
- If the roots haven’t grown all around the sides of the root ball (plant isn’t rootbound), avoid disturbing the roots if possible. There’s no need to shake out dirt, just carefully move entire root ball directly into the next pot.
- Make sure your plants are in their final container at least 1-2 weeks before you switch them over to the flowering stage, and avoid transplanting plants during the flowering/budding stage if you can since the stress may affect your final yields.
- If your cannabis plants seem like they are suffering from transplant shock (leaf symptoms, drooping, slowed growth), it can be helpful to use a seaweed kelp extract (often available as a liquid fertilizer) to help your cannabis recover more quickly. If transplanting seems scary, it’s okay to plant your seed or clone in its final destination right at the beginning, just be wary of overwatering until the plant has a few sets of leaves and is growing vigorously. You can increase the amount of oxygen available to your plants by adding extra perlite to loosen the soil and allow water to drain through more easily. after they’ve been transplanted for the best results!
If you follow all these steps, you may notice that your plant doesn’t show any signs of stress at all!
Now you just allow plants to grow!
4.) Transplant to an even bigger container if desired
If your cannabis plants double in height while still in the vegetative stage, you may want to consider transplanting them into an even bigger container for the best results. The final size of your cannabis plant is constrained by the pot size. If you keep your plants in small pots, they simply won’t grow as big as they would in bigger pots.
If you’re trying to keep plants small, small containers can actually be a good thing. But if you want to grow bigger plants, you need to give their roots enough space to “spread out”
What Size Final Container?
A general guide is to have at least 2 gallons per 12″ of height. This isn’t perfect since plants often grow differently, and some plants are short and wide instead of tall, but this is a good starting rule of thumb.
So if your final (desired) plant size is…
12″ ~ 2-3 gallon container
24″ ~ 4-6 gallon container
36″ ~ 6-8 gallon container
48″ ~ 8-10 gallon container
60″ ~ 10+ gallon container
Go Bigger If You Need to Spend Time Away From Your Cannabis!
If you plan on being away from your plants for more than a day or two during the grow, it can’t hurt to go up a size or two. The bigger the container, the less often you need to water. So even if you get slightly slower growth in a too-big container, you will definitely be able to spend more time away from your plants without having to water them!
5.) You’re Done!
That’s it. You’re done transplanting your weed plants!
Now you just need to worry about taking care of your plants until you’re ready to start flowering/budding. Remember plants will usually double (or even triple) in size from when you first initiate the flowering stage!
Note: You can skip transplanting if it seems like too much work for you. Just make sure you’re careful not to overwater small plants in too-big containers. Once plants start growing vigorously, you don’t need to worry as much about overwatering. Learn more about common seedling problems.
Should I start in a solo cup or in a bigger pot?
I think it’s a matter of preference. Just as a quick summary: It’s easy to give too much or too little water to a very small seedling in a big pot. With a solo cup, you just soak the grow medium and the roots get a lot of both oxygen and water at all times because the medium dries out quickly. The downside is you have to transplant a seedling as soon as the leaves reach the edges of the cup, or its growth starts slowing down. Also, if you’re not careful you could possibly shock the plant during transplant.
Seedlings started in solo cups take less room in the grow space, and tend to grow a little faster! But if you’re careful about watering plant in a big container, you can get seedlings to grow almost as fast without having to worry about transplanting.
I’ve done it both ways and each method will serve you well. In the end, don’t stress too much. Your seedlings will come out fine as long as you pay attention to them
Transplanting marijuana plants
Transplanting marijuana plants can be one of the trickiest parts of growing cannabis. It may seem overwhelming, but when properly researched it can be done with ease by just about anyone.
About transplanting marijuana plants
Once your plants have established a stable root system, they are ready for a period of major foliage growth.
So what makes transplanting cannabis so important? What would even happen if you didn’t do it? In this article, we will answer those questions, and will dive into the following topics:
If you don’t transplant your plants in time they might get rootbound. Rootbound means that the roots have grown all the way around the edges and bottom of the container because it is nog big enough. Your plant will not grow anymore until you transplant it to a larger container.
The following symptoms are signs that your plant is rootbound:
- Stunted Growth
- Smaller and slower bud production
- Easy to burn with low % nutrient solution mixtures
- Red stems
Roots have wrapped around the edges and growing upwards. Classic signs of a rootbound plant. Image from 420mag
The right time to transplant your cannabis plants is when they have an established, sturdy root system in place. This is the case when the roots grow out of the bottom of the pot. The plant is ready to focus its energy on vegetative growth now, so it needs to be moved to a larger container.
Note: Marijuana plants need around 2 gallons of soil for each foot of growth.
You will need to educate yourself about how to do this properly, since making even a small mistake during the process could have a devastating effect. You will also have to carefully choose where you are going to put your cannabis plants permanently to live out their adult lives.
Transplanting cannabis plants at this stage is always necessary, regardless of how you sprouted your plants to begin with. They simply cannot thrive if they are grown in containers for their whole lives, so you cannot avoid the transplantation process. The best way to deal with this is through research and planning.
So what could happen if you make a mistake while transplanting your cannabis plants? Your plants could go into shock, which might cause their leaves to turn yellow and then wither, finally dying and dropping off the plant altogether. In some more serious cases, the plant itself could actually die from the trauma.
While risky, transplanting your plants will have an overwhelmingly positive effect (when done responsibly). It will help speed up the maturing process of the plant while simultaneously requiring even less hands-on care from you as the grower. In summary, it’s well worth the risk and hassle in the end.
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Indoor or outdoor transplanting?
Before beginning the transplanting process, you will first need to make some decisions about your permanent grow site. The location is everything, as it will determine your cannabis plants’ growing environment (and, therefore, their rate of success) as well as your own security.
If you want more control over the environment in which your plants are growing, you may be interested in setting up a permanent grow site indoors. With this method, you can grow all your plants in larger separate containers of some sort (check these containers).
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This can be a great way to ensure the health of your plants since you would control every aspect of their lives. On the other hand, growing your cannabis plants indoors will also require you to use a lot more money, time, and effort. Whether it is light, food, water, temperature or ventilation, you will have to provide it yourself.
For growers on a budget or who prefer a more natural method of growing, setting up a grow site outdoors might make the most sense. It costs much less in both money and effort.
That being said, with this method it is even more important to choose the right grow site for your plants, since it will have a significant effect on both the environment around your plants, as well as your own personal security. It will need to be a safe place with easy access, where you can ensure safety for both yourself and your cannabis plants.
When to transplant
The basic idea behind transplanting at a certain time is to do it when your plants’ roots have reached as far as they can grow within the constraints of their container. Roots actually tend to grow further and faster when they are enclosed in a container; it’s almost as if they are eager to reach open space as soon as possible.
Strangely enough, roots that are already planted straight into the ground do not grow with the same amount of urgency. So what happens if you leave your plants in a container for too long? The answer is simple: they’ll just stop growing altogether.
Containers are not the only thing guilty of causing such a response in the plant. Peat plugs can do the same thing since their mesh perimeter usually acts as a hindrance to the roots, and they stop growing as if they were contained in a plastic pot. This will cause them to stop growing as well.
Once your cannabis plants have sprouted, two leaves that are oblong in shape will start to be visible. These are called cotyledons and they come out from the one tiny stem that will pop up from the soil. They don’t resemble the easily recognized marijuana leaves, but after just a few days they will drop off and normal marijuana leaves will emerge. This shows you that your plants are beginning their seedling phase of life.
Plants in this phase are still relatively small in size, but their roots will begin to grow and develop into a proper root system. This system, though nicely developed, is still quite fragile.
You cannot yet move your plants while they are in their seedling phase, but do ensure that they have plenty of light and water (or just moisture in the soil). The seedling phase can be between two and six weeks long.
So how can you identify the time when your plants are ready for transplantation?
Doing it too early would be devastating for your tender seedlings, so you must act with caution. Once you suddenly are seeing faster growth of leaves as well as a firmer stem. You can test the firmness of the stem by grabbing it with your hand (gently) without doing any damage to it. If these things are happening to your young plants, they have officially entered the vegetative growth stage of their life.
You can, of course, begin the growing season a bit earlier by using peat plugs. This is ideal for growers who are located in climates where the growing season is naturally shorter.
If you do go with peat plugs, make sure you are always aware of the mesh perimeters and whether root tendrils are emerging from underneath them. As soon as you see this you will need to transplant the seedlings into a bigger container or else into the ground outdoors. If you don’t, the growth of your plant could remain stunted forever.
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How to transplant
The first thing you need to do when transplanting your plants to a new, permanent location is to choose a spot for them. There are three types of locations that you can choose between.
The first one is an indoor location that can be accessed with ease but is not easily noticed by other people. A second option would be to move your plants outdoors, where many of the valuable resources they need come at no cost to you. The third option is a sort of indoor-outdoor hybrid: you can move your plants to larger containers, but in turn, move these containers outdoors temporarily.
During the first 3 weeks of flowering root-binding can seriously decrease your yield. The buds and leaves wont continue to grow because the plant cant grow new roots to support them.
If you are most concerned about the discovery of your plants, the third option might be for you because it means that you will be able to quickly relocate your crop in case of detection. It also works well for moving your plants away from pests.
Out of the three options, moving your plants from one container to another is most likely the simplest and most straightforward option available to you.
No matter what option you choose to go with, there are a few key factors to your successful transplantation. First and most obviously, you need to make sure that new soil (whether in the ground or in containers) is fully prepared before you begin the transplantation process.
If you are moving the plants into new pots, make sure that each pot is 4 gallons at the very smallest if it’s their permanent container. If you are going to move your plants to an outdoor location, simply dig a hole that is a few inches greater in size than the pots that your plants have been living in thus far. Make sure to have piles of dug up soil around the hole as well, so that you can push it back in once you have completed the move.
You should actually keep the plants in the soil that they have already been growing since it will reduce the amount of shock that it undergoes, and will instead ease your plant into its new environment. If you have grown your plants within a closet until now, they are especially susceptible to shock, so be particularly cautious.
The next factor that you need to pay attention to is the condition of the soil that your plants are currently living in. It needs to be moist but not wet, and not dry enough to crumble. The most important thing is that your soil sticks together during the transplantation, keeping the shape of its original container (wiki on transplanting).
The process is simple. Put the palm of your hand on the soil in its original pot, keeping the plant’s stem between two of your middle fingers. Your other hand should be beneath the plant. Using both hands, smoothly flip the pot upside-down, putting the full contents and weight of the plant and its soil into your hand that’s holding the stalk of the plant.
Then put away the container, as you will no longer be needing it, and put your hand back on the bottom of the contents, where you should be able to see the white tendrils of the roots. You then put the whole thing into one of the holes you have already dug in the ground.
Do not panic if large pieces of soil fall from the roots of the plant. Your only priority is getting the plant’s roots back underground and covered completely with soil. With a peat plug, the mesh surrounding your plant’s roots should be pulled off and discarded since your plant will no longer be engulfed by water.
Once you have pushed all the soil onto plant’s roots, make sure to give those roots plenty of water. Use up a full gallon that has added plant food.
The last step is simply to cover up the soil that has been exposed to natural debris and leaves that are already at this location. This will both slow down the evaporation of the water you just poured, as well as camouflage your garden from unexpected discovery.
Once the plant is fully grown you will need to start thinking about flowering and harvest time. Our free little Harvest Guide will help you determine the best moment to cut your plants.
How and when to transplant cannabis plants
Transplanting is the process of “re-homing” a cannabis plant, or moving a plant into a bigger pot with more soil as it grows bigger.
Growers typically start off the cannabis growing process by planting many seeds in small pots because they don’t know if all of them will sprout—or germinate—and they don’t know if all of them will be female.
Only female cannabis plants produce buds, so if you start growing from regular seeds, you will have to sex them out and discard the males.
Why is transplanting marijuana plants important?
Transplanting gives a marijuana plant’s root system more space to spread out, allowing the plant to grow healthy and strong and to flourish.
When roots become cramped and can’t spread out they can get tangled and become “rootbound”—this will effective choke the plant, leading to a stunted, sickly plant, and can even kill it. A healthy root system will lead to a healthy weed plant.
A plant’s container will determine how much the roots can stretch out, and therefore how big your plant will get. A container that’s too small will stunt it.
You don’t want to plant a seed in a giant pot because you could potentially waste soil if the seed doesn’t make it. Also, if growing weed outdoors, it’s hard to plan out a garden and where to put your seeds in the ground if some seeds don’t make it.
Most weed growers start seeds in small 4-inch or 1-gallon pots when germinating.
For the seeds that do make it, they will need bigger homes after several weeks of growing and will need to be transplanted either into a bigger pot or directly into the ground.
When planting into the ground, make sure not to crowd your plants so their roots don’t run into each other.
The symptoms of a rootbound plant include:
- Flimsy new growth
- Stunted flower production
- Stem discoloration (reddening)
- Nutrient sensitivity
A rootbound plant may also appear under-watered. If a plant requires watering more than once a day, it may need to get transplanted.
When to transplant marijuana
Check out Johanna’s full video series on how to grow weed on Leafly’s YouTube .
Most marijuana plants go through 1-2 transplants during their life but could have more. As an example, transplanting can happen from:
- First container (1-gallon) to second container (2-gallon): 4-8 weeks after seed germination
- Second container (2-gallon) to third container (5-gallon): transplant 8-12 weeks later, or 2 weeks before flowering
Some growers may only transplant once: using the example above, from a 1-gallon to a 5-gallon container, skipping the 2-gallon. And depending on how big you want your weed plants to get, you may transplant into bigger pots than what’s listed above.
The same goes for transplanting outside, in the ground—you can go straight from the first pot into the ground, but it depends on when you transplant and your local climate and weather.
Here are some indicators that your cannabis is ready for a new container.
Number of leaves
Young plants sowed in small containers are usually ready to be transplanted after they’ve sprouted 4-5 sets of leaves, but keep in mind this may vary from strain to strain.
Check the drainage holes at the bottom of the container—a plant should have a healthy and visibly white root system. If roots are growing out of the holes, it’s time to transplant.
Any discoloration or darkening may indicate the plant has become rootbound and a transplant should take place immediately.
End of vegetative stage
A weed plant should be in its final pot or in the ground with plenty of room for its roots before it enters the flowering stage. During flowering, a plant will increase in both size and volume, as the plant itself continues to grow and as buds develop. It will require a substantial amount of space for root development.
How much space does a marijuana plant need?
|Plant height (inches)||Pot size|
|0-6″||4-inch (16 oz.)|
When transplanting cannabis, give the plant at least double the space of its previous container. This reduces the number of times you need to transplant and minimizes the risk of transplant shock, which may occur when a plant experiences extreme stress from root disturbance.
For example, you could go from a 1-gallon to a 2-gallon to a 5-gallon, or from a 2-gallon to a 5-gallon to a 10-gallon.
Medium-sized indoor cannabis plants tend to be fine in 5-gallon containers as a finishing pot. Large outdoor plants may require much bigger containers to reach their behemoth potential, sometimes up to 10- or 20-gallon pots.
When in doubt, always opt for slightly more space than needed. A plant tends to require 2 gallons of soil for every 12 inches of growth it achieves during the vegetative stage. Knowing the potential height of the strain you’re growing is helpful.
Why not start in the largest pot for your marijuana plant?
Growers typically transplant weed plants 1-3 times, moving plants to bigger pots gradually as they get bigger.
If a plant is put in too big of a pot, the roots won’t stretch out that much and won’t soak up as much water. This can cause water to sit in the pot for a long time, waterlogging the plant and leading to root rot.
You can transplant into the largest pot for your weed plant to avoid multiple transplants, but be careful not to water all of the soil—only water around the stalk of the plant where the young roots are.
How to transplant marijuana
Check out Johanna’s full video series on how to grow weed on Leafly’s YouTube .
The process of transplanting weed does not come without risk. Transplant shock can be incredibly detrimental to the growth and development of a cannabis plant, and can even kill it. However, through proper execution, the process of transplanting will benefit the plant and lead to stronger root development and healthier flower production.
First transplant of a cannabis plant
Young cannabis plants should start in a 4-inch or 1-gallon pot. This starting pot should be adequate for a few weeks before transplanting is needed.
Again, the first transplanting should occur after the seedling has sprouted its 4th or 5th set of leaves. To transplant:
- Wash your hands and/or wear gloves to prevent contamination of the delicate roots, and keep the surroundings as sanitary as possible.
- Give the plant a light sprinkling of water to help minimize shock; don’t drench it, as the soil will be difficult to work with.
- Fill the receiving pot with soil, allowing enough space for the new plant.
- Avoid overpacking the soil during and after transplanting—this can compromise drainage and damage the root system.
- Do not disturb or damage the roots when transplanting; the first transplanting poses the greatest risk for shock, which can occur from root damage and agitation.
- Avoid intense light when transplanting; this will help prevent transplant shock as well.
- Fully water in the plant once it’s in its new home.
Additional transplanting of cannabis plants
You may need to transplant your weed plant a second or third time to maximize its growing potential. Always monitor plants for symptoms of distress or overcrowded roots.
To do so, follow the steps above, and make sure the new container is at least twice as big as the old one, if not bigger.
The finishing container is the final home of a plant until it’s harvested. This will be the largest container for a plant, and you always want to transplant into this pot 1-2 weeks before the flowering stage—you don’t want to disturb a plant while it’s flowering.
Keep in mind that large plants may require stakes or other support to avoid structural damage after transplanting.