Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tips for Seed Starting

If you like a wider variety of plants then your local nursery offers, or if you'd like to lower your cost (a pack of seeds usually costs the same as six pack at a greenhouse), starting your own seeds may be a good option. Here is the steps to indoor seed starting with a few things I've learned. I don't start a lot of my own seeds but I do have fun with a few. You ladies with home greenhouses know tons more about this then I do – and I'd love to hear if you have any seed starting tips!

1. Containers

You can buy flats, peat pots, or cell packs at the store or recycle yogurt cups, egg cartons, milk jugs or paper cups. If you are using old pots, sterilize in water with a few drops of bleach added. Whatever containers you choose should have holes for drainage. If you place your pots in trays, you'll be able to water from the bottom and avoid flooding the seeds.

2. Soil

Buying a seed starting mix is the best course of action. Garden soil is too heavy for seed starting indoors. Mixing homemade compost with peat moss makes a good seed starting soil. But if you are like us, your compost pile is frozen solid! If you had the fore thought to bring in a bucket of compost in the fall, you have my congratulations! Before planting the seeds, moisten your soil.

3. Plant

The rule of thumb in planting seeds is to plant three times as deep as the seeds size.

The smaller seeds plant shallow,
The bigger seeds plant deeper,
If you forget these simple rules,
Your seeds will all be sleepers.

Be sure to label the pot. Most tiny green plants look alike and even if you think you will remember, you probably won't! Popsicle sticks work well.

Cover the pots with plastic. This will help hold in the moisture while the seeds germinate. Plastic wrap works well. You can also slide the pots into a plastic bag. Place them in a warm place. A window sill or the top of the refrigerator work well.

4. Light

Check on your seeds daily. As soon as the seeds germinate and you see the first green leaves sprouting out of the ground move to a well lit spot. A sunny window sill works well but the light will only be coming from one side, so turn your pots regularly. A fluorescent light bulb hung just inches from the top of the pot is a great light source. Keep the light on 24 hours a day as plants don't need darkness.

5. Water

Too much and too little water can be equally devastating to new plants. Check the moisture level daily. You want the soil to be moist but not saturated. Small plants have very little reserve and shouldn't be allowed to wilt. Too much water, on the other hand, can encourage disease. The best way I've found is to dip a finger in the soil about a half inch. If it feels dry, water. If the soil is still damp, wait a day.

6. Feed

Your new plants will use up the nutrients in their soil, but don't be too quick to dump on the Miracle Grow! Small plants only need a very weak dose of fertilizer about once a week.

7. Space

As your plants grow and form two or three sets of leaves, they will need more space. If you planted them in a tray, you may wish to move them to individual pots. Carefully, move the seedlings with the help of a spoon or popsicle stick. If you started the seeds small pots or cell packs and several plants are together, you can thin your plants by snipping off all the plants but the best one in each pot. It feels cruel, but it's for the best!

8. Harden

You've given your plants the best light, water, food and space. It is now warm outside and they are now ready to go to their summer home in your garden. Before you plunk your coddled plants out in the great outdoors to face the elements on their own, give them a chance to adjust. Choose a sheltered spot for them to spend a few hours then bring them back in for the night. The next day let them out longer and after a few days of hardening, your plants will be ready for a permanent life outside.

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