Grow strong and healthy seedlings by following these professional tips for starting seeds…
Starting seeds yourself is a great way to make sure your garden is sustainable from start to finish – from seed to harvest. Planting your own seeds means you have control over the growing medium at every step of the way, and you don’t have to worry about outside pests or diseases infesting your garden from a nursery-grown plant (something that has happened to me more than once). It can also save you a bundle over purchasing plants!
However, sometimes gardeners struggle with germination rates or poor performance of their homegrown seedlings. To make sure your plants are strong and healthy, you will want to give them a great start. Below are a few tips for starting seeds that will help ensure a healthy and successful garden this season:
1.) Start with Fresh Seeds
You can try a germination test to determine if your seeds are still viable, but for best results and strongest growth, start with new seeds. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to buy all new seeds every year. Many heirloom varieties can be successfully grown from year to year by saving seeds from your own plants at the end of each garden season.
2.) Use a Good Seed-Starting Mix
While compost is okay, you should never plant your indoor starts directly into garden soil, which may contain microrganisms that can harm tiny seedlings, and won’t contain enough nutrition to give them a good start. (If you’re planting larger seeds outdoors, like squash or melons, these are tougher seedlings, so they’ll be just fine in the garden soil.) There are plenty of good seed-starting mixes available to purchase, but you can also make your own very easily. Marjorie at The Grow Network prefers a half-and-half mixture of coconut coir and worm castings/vermicompost. Or you can use regular compost or leaf compost. Sift your mixture to aim for a fine, soft texture before planting.
An interesting note from Marjorie:
Some gardeners sterilize their germination mix. I don’t agree. I always use ingredients with good, active biology. How would you like to be born into a little plastic cell, devoid of life? Trust in Mother Nature and use a mix with vibrant biology.
3.) Plant Your Seeds Correctly
Here are Marjorie’s tips for planting:
When it comes to the container you use, the type of container is not important. I like the manufactured seed starting flats. They are cheap, reusable and recyclable. They drain well, and everything is contained in a well-fitted tray. If you don’t have these or don’t want them, use any well-drained container that you like.
- Fill the seed cells almost to the top with your starting mix.
- In order to avoid tearing the young roots when you remove the seedlings from the container for transplanting, it is a good idea to tamp down the germinating mix in the cells now.
- After tamping, add chemical-free water to thoroughly moisten the starting mix. If you really want to be nice, use liquid or dry seaweed according to the instructions on the label. Seaweed is a great item to have on the shelf and it keeps indefinitely.
- When the starting mix is moist, you can plant your seeds at the depth specified on the seed packet.
- When the seeds have been planted, spray the top of the cells with water until the mix is well settled.
- After seeding, you can cover the cells with plastic. You can buy fitted plastic covers for seed starting trays, or just use some plastic wrap or a plastic bag.
4.) Give Them Good Light
Light is perhaps THE most important consideration for healthy seedlings! Without a strong, reliable light source, your plants will develop tall, thin, weak stems which are much more susceptible to damage and disease.
Here are a few tips for choosing a good grow light for your baby seedlings:
Setting up a grow light today is easy and inexpensive, and it doesn’t take up much room. Bulky shop lights and fiendishly hot tungsten bulbs are fading into history. If you have some empty space on a bookshelf or an empty shelf in a kitchen cabinet, you can easily install a couple of tiny T-5 light fixtures. There are also several LED offerings on the market. LED grow lights are powerful and super efficient, and they generate very little heat.
Simply attach a light or two to the bottom of one shelf to light the shelf underneath it where your tray will sit. If the shelf is adjustable, you are all set. If not, the tray can be elevated when the seedlings are started, to bring the surface of the soil within two or three inches of the light. That’s right! The light will be very close to the seeds.
5.) Plant at the Right Time
You need to transition the plants at the right times on their journey to the outdoor garden. Calculate the correct amount of time various plants need to develop to the optimum transplanting size to avoid holding the plants for extended periods. Begin your seeds based on that timetable.
When your seeds germinate, you will see cotyledons. They should be bright green and fleshy, standing on short stems. Now is a good time to remove the plastic covering, if there is any. At this earliest stage you should water the seedlings with a spray bottle, to avoid damaging the delicate young roots. Ideally, you will not need to water, but if the air is dry, the soil may require additional moisture.
Soon the tiny plants will develop their first true leaves. This is a great time for their first feeding.
Wait until the surface of the soil begins to dry out. Use a mild, natural fertilizer mixed at half strength. Fertilize every two weeks until the plants move outside…
With proper timing and adequate light, your seedlings will be off to a great start for a healthy and productive growing season!