Seed Starting

Okay, I admit it, I can't wait for the weather to warm up before I start playing in the dirt. I have found that starting plants from seed is a rewarding project that all gardeners should try at least once. Growing plants, especially annual flowers and vegetables, from seed is inexpensive, easy, and efficient. A much wider variety of plants and cultivars are available from seed than from ready to buy transplants. You can use recycled yogurt, nursery six pack, cottage cheese containers, milk cartons, & even egg cartons. Whatever container you use, make sure that it has a hole through which excess water can drain or is porous and will eventually drain. Any sitting water at the bottom of a container can rob growing roots of oxygen and encourage fungal diseases. There are lots of different seed containers on the market, including peat pots (nice for hard to transplant seedlings like cucumbers) , jiffy pellets, flats with individual growing cells, and self-watering seed trays. You may want to start with small containers and then transfer to 4" or 6" plastic pots, milk cartons, or homemade paper pots. If you start your seeds extra early, you will need to transplant them into larger pots after 3-4 weeks. Otherwise, the plants will become weak and floppy with entangled roots. Larger pots will take up more space than seedling flats, so you'll have to plan for the extra window or light space Before filling your container with potting mix, wash it with a 10% solution of bleach to kill off any disease organisms. Fill containers almost to their brims with moistened soil. Smooth it out and tamp it down. Then begin carefully setting the seeds in, planting them shallow. Seed packets inform how deep to sow seed - be sure to read them carefully If individual containers are being used, put only a couple of seeds (the extras are for insurance) into each container.

With flats, space seeds a half-inch apart if the intention is to transplant them to a second grow-out flat later, or 1 to 2 inches apart if they are going to be kept in the same flat until garden time. It is always best to plant more seeds than what is needed. They may not all germinate, and it is best to have many seedlings so only the healthiest are chosen. Thin out the smallest and weakest ones later. If more than one type are planted in a tray or flat, choose ones that have about the same germination time and transplant date. Again - read the packet backs for this information. Don't forget to label each variety as the seeds are sown. Most seed failures are a result of improper temperature. Generally, seeds germinate better if their soil (not air, soil) temperature is constantly 70°F or above (and at the other end of the range, some germinate best at 80° to 85°). Keep the seed trays in a constantly warm place. Look for any warm spot you can find. Do not put seed starting trays in a windowsill; it is almost always much too cool for good germination, particularly at night and the morning. Maintaining consistently warm temperatures, both day and night, signals the seeds to begin growing. Once your seedlings begin to sprout, move the seed container to a sunny location. Two methods of watering are commonly used: Bottom Soaking and Misting. I will usually bottom soak my trays when I first sow the seed to ensure that there is plenty of moisture around the seed and use supplemental mistings when the soil surface begins to dry out. I use a plastic covering that allows light in and prevents evaporation. Once the seedlings appear, I remove the plastic for good air circulation. Never let the soil dry out. Moisten the soil mix thoroughly before sowing, mix it well to distribute moisture evenly, and be sure it doesn't dry out afterwards. The water should be at least room temperature. It is advisable to allow any chlorinated water to stand for a day to allow the chlorine to dissipate. Most gardening authorities will recommend soil-less seed starting mixtures. Soil-less seed mixes are sterile and are formulated to retain water, allow air penetration, and maintain a low pH (6.0). All things most seeds prefer. Soil-less mixes are totally free of any nutrients and that is okay because seeds contain all the nutrients they will need to get started. But after they are up and growing, you have to feed them with a liquid fertilizer. Which is expensive and can burn the new seedlings. So I add in organic fertilizers like compost and worm castings to my mix. I like that the nutrients are released slowly, there are natural organisms that get the plants off to the right startand the mix seems to hold moisture better.

Once seedlings have developed at least one set of true leaves it's time to transplant or thin. For seedlings planted in individual containers, thin to one seedling per pot by cutting off unwanted seedlings at the soil line with a scissors or your fingernail. This prevents the roots of the remaining seedling from being disturbed. To transplant seedlings into individual containers, gently tease them apart with a small utensil such as a plastic plant marker or pencil. Handle them carefully by their leaves instead of their delicate stems. Poke a hole in the soil with a pencil and plant seedlings at the same depth as they had been growing. Gently mist to settle in. The last step in seed starting is to harden your seedlings off. This is a process that prepares pampered seedlings for the great outdoors. About two weeks before planting outdoors gradually acclimatize seedlings by placing them outdoors for short periods of time. Start by putting them outdoors in a shady spot for an hour or two, and then gradually increase duration of stay and exposure to sun. Do not put tender seedlings outdoors on windy days or when temperatures are below 45 degrees. Seedlings should have spent at least 1 overnight outdoors before being planted in the garden.


My favorite Potting Mix

1part  compost

1part good garden soil (rubbed throught a screen)

1part sphagnum moss (avoid peat moss)

If you have vermiculite mix in an equal part.



*'Green fingers' are a fact, and a mystery only to the unpracticed. But green fingers are the extensions of a verdant heart. A good garden cannot be made by somebody who has not developed the capacity to know and love growing things.*



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