Choosing and transplanting rice seedlings



Save and edit this resource as a Word document.

Content: Be sure your rice seedlings are strong and healthy before transplanting them from the nursery into the field. Transplant them at the proper depth and protect the roots.

Prune seedlings that are very tall.

Sometimes rice seedlings transplanted from the nursery into the field don’t grow very well. Maybe they get damaged by insects or disease, or maybe they are simply too weak to produce a lot of rice. You may be able to prevent this by choosing good seedlings and transplanting them properly. We got some recommendations from Dr. Benito Vergara, a rice specialist at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, about the best way to transplant rice seedlings from a wetbed nursery into the field.

Choosing the seedlings

First of all, you must choose the strongest, healthiest rice seedlings to transplant. Strong seedlings will probably not be harmed by rats, birds, or other pests. They will survive, grow strong, and produce lots of rice.

Choose seedlings that look strong and healthy with no disease and no pests on them. All the seedlings that you choose should be about the same size. They should be green. Do not choose seedlings that are yellow. Look at the part of the leaf that wraps around the stem of the plant—the leaf sheath. This part of the plant should be short. The leaves should be short and point upwards. When you pull the plant out of the soil, it should be heavy to hold and should have a large number of healthy white roots.


After you have chosen the best possible seedlings from the nursery, you’re ready to plant them in the field. There are a few more things to remember when transplanting so your plants will produce a good crop.

Do not plant the seedlings too deep in the soil. If you do, the plants will grow slowly. Plant the seedling 2 to 3 cm (about 1 inch) deep in the soil. Make sure the seedling is standing straight up.

Keep in mind how easily the small roots of the plant can be broken or crushed. Don’t push or squeeze the roots straight into the mud. Protect them by covering and holding them with your thumb, first, and middle fingers. Push your fingers down into the mud. When your middle finger is covered in mud up to the first joint, you’ve pushed the plant down far enough. Let go of the seedling and pull your fingers out. This way, you protect the roots and you don’t break the seedling.

Plant two or three seedlings in each hill. Then, if one plant dies, there will still be others that have a chance to live. If you have extra seedlings after you’ve finished planting the paddy field, plant them in between the rows. Then after ten days, if some of the plants in the hills have died, replant the hills with those seedlings you planted between the rows.

Sometimes a seedling is quite tall when the time comes to transplant. The leaves of tall, thin plants may hang in the water and get wet. If that happens, these tall seedlings can easily get disease. So, if you have any seedlings that are very tall, more than 20 centimetres (8 inches) high, it’s a good idea to cut part of the top of the plant off before transplanting. When you pull the seedling up from the wetbed, simply chop a bit of the top off. Chop at 15 centimetres (6 inches) above the top of the roots. Make sure that there are at least parts of three or four green leaves still attached to the plant.


In summary then, remember that it’s important to choose strong healthy seedlings with no pests on them, seedlings that:

– are green

– have a short leaf sheath and short, upright leaves

– have lots of white roots

Be sure that they look healthy and are free of insects or disease.

Plant two to three seedlings in each hill so that at least one or two plants will survive. Plant them 2 to 3 centimetres (about 1 inch) deep in the soil and protect the roots with your fingers when you push them into the mud. You may have to cut off the tops of seedlings that are more than 20 centimetres (8 inches) tall, but only cut a bit off and make sure that there are still parts of three or four green leaves on the plant.


This is one of three items in this package about rice. You may wish to use these items together.

Information sources

Interview with Dr. Benito Vergara of the International Rice Research Institute, by George Atkins.

A farmer’s primer on growing rice, (1979, 221 pages), by Benito S. Vergara, published by the International Rice Research Institute, Manila, Philippines.