For many gardeners, late winter marks the beginning of planting season — time to plant seeds of many vegetables and flowers indoors for transplanting to the garden later this spring. (Gardeners in the most southern climates, already in high gear, began planting outdoors in January!)
Starting plants from seed is one of the most satisfying garden activities. Besides saving you money, starting from seed gives you access to hundreds of cultivars not otherwise available. But there’s another, very special reason to start your own plants from seed: the experience!
Even the most expert seed starters continue to feel awed by the miracle of germination and growth. By starting your own seeds, you can help make it happen and ensure that your garden is 100 percent organic, right from the start.
NINE STEPS FOR STARTING SEEDS
1. Choose a fine medium. For healthy seedlings, you’ve got to give them a loose, well-drained medium (seed-starting mix) composed of very fine particles. Don’t use potting soil– often, it’s too rich and doesn’t drain well enough for seedlings.
2. Assemble your containers. Many gardeners start their seeds in leftover plastic “six packs” from the garden center, or empty milk cartons. You can buy plastic “cell packs,” individual plastic pots, or sphagnum peat pots.
Set the pots inside a tray so that you can water your seedlings from the bottom (by adding water to the tray) rather than disturbing them by watering from the front.
3. Start your seeds! Moisten your seed-starting mix before you plant your seeds. Plant at least two, but no more than three, seeds per container. After you’ve planted your seeds, cover the tray loosely with plastic to create a humid environment.
4. Keep the lights bright. As soon as you see sprouts, remove the plastic covers and immediately pop the trays beneath lights. You can invest in grow lights, but many gardeners have good results with standard 4-foot long fluorescent shop lights.
5. Feed and water. Your seedlings will need a steady supply of water, but the soil shouldn’t be constantly wet.
6. Keep the air moving. Your seedlings need to be big and strong by the time you move them from their cushy indoor surroundings to the harsh realities of the outside world. You can help them grow sturdy, stocky stems with a small fan.
7. Give them space. Those well-watered, well-fed, and well-fanned seedlings will soon need more root space. Shortly after the second set of true leaves appears, thin your seedlings to one per pot.
8. Harden-off. About a week or two before you plan to transplant your seedlings to the garden, begin taking them outdoors to a protected place, for increasing lengths of time on mild days. This will help them adjust to the conditions outside.
9. Seal it with a kiss! Most important, relax! Except for hardening off, all of these rules are flexible.