Starting your own vegetable and flower seedlings indoors can bring great enjoyment. And from now through March is the best time to start most seedlings indoors for transplanting outside later.
What could be better than the special satisfaction that comes from harvesting the bounty of a spectacular plant that was once only a tiny speck of a seed in the palm of your hand? But starting your own seedlings is not only fun and rewarding, but very practical as well.
Even the best greenhouses and garden centers are limited in the number of varieties they can carry. But the variety of seed available in those same garden centers is much broader. So if you want a unique variety you may have no other choice but to start your own plants from seed.
And of course starting your own seedlings can save you a bundle of money as well. Often times you can buy a packet of seeds which will grow 50 plants for about the same price it would cost to buy one plant at the greenhouse.
There are five basic requirements for successful seed starting: good seeds, good light, good starting medium, good soil temperature, and proper watering. Let’s take a look at these important points one at a time.
No matter how careful you are with all the other aspects of seed starting you will not be satisfied with the results unless you have heeded the call for good seeds.Always buy from reputable companies.
Adequate light is essential to ensure sturdy, strong seedlings ready to take on the rigors of the climate outdoors. Even a bright, sunny window does not provide sufficient light to avoid leggy, weak-stemmed seedlings.Consider placing fluorescent plant lights 2-4 inches above your seedlings. Keep the lights on 16-18 hours a day.
Good Planting Medium
This is an easy one – don’t use soil! Do use a top quality, light, soil-free planting mix. An inexpensive substitute is a mixture of sawdust and coarse sand. But you must be prepared to fertilize constantly once the seedlings are up.
Proper Soil Temperature
Nearly all seeds germinate best in soil temperatures of 75 to 85 degrees. Using a soil heating mat is the easiest and best way to do that. Fill the containers with planting mix and thump on the table to settle soil. Place tray on heating mat.
Place seeds on surface of soil and cover very lightly with planting mix. Lay a layer of burlap on the seed tray and gently water through the burlap to avoid disturbing the seeds. Peek under burlap every day to check for germination. If seeds are germinating remove burlap and the plastic dome, if used, immediately. Now be sure you have adequate light and water as needed to keep plants from wilting.
It’s best to plant your seed closely together in a seed tray and then transplant them into individual pots when they get their first true leaves. Carefully remove a clump of plants from the soil. Gently separate the plants using a pencil and holding the plants by the leaves. Dibble a 1/2 wide hole in the soil. Lower the roots into the hole being careful not to plant too deep. Use a dibble stick (or pencil) to settle the soil around the plant roots. Water gently.
Once your seedlings have their first set of true leaves you can begin feeding them at every watering. We recommend Ferti-lome Water Soluble Plant Food (20-20-20). But be sure to use it at the milder potted plant rate (1 teaspoon per gallon of water).
Plants grown in the ideal climate found indoors need to be “hardened off” before planting in the bright sun, wind, and cold they will experience outside. Start by taking the plants outside on a calm day for about an hour. Then bring them back indoors under the lights. Repeat the process each day doubling the time until they are out all day. Now they are ready to go into the soil. If the weather gets particularly cold or windy you may want to abort the process and begin again when the weather improves.
Credits: Idaho Falls Community Garden Association, The Gardeners News: Vol. 1, Number 3. For timing and additional information see “Starting Seeds Indoors”.