By Sommer Cartier.
Spring is just around the corner and March is the perfect time to start your seeds. Planting a garden from seed can be incredibly rewarding. Planting from seed saves money and allows you to choose from a wider variety of plants for your garden. Starting seeds now will also help to alleviate any spring fever that has left you yearning for the tomatoes and eggplants of summer. Below are some helpful tips to get you started.
Use soilless seed starting mix
Planting seeds in a soilless seed starting mix will help reduce many of the problems gardeners often encounter when starting plants from seed. Soilless mixes are free of disease-causing bacteria, fungi and other contaminants. They also support proper drainage, water retention, and adequate airspace, all of which are critical for germinating seeds.
Choosing the right container
For the frugal or creative gardener, try these do-it-yourself containers:
Yogurt containers or paper cups with holes in the bottom
Whichever container you choose, remember that good drainage is important to raising healthy seedlings and preventing damping off or other fungal diseases.
To prevent the spread of disease, always sterilize recycled containers with a solution of bleach or other disinfectant. Mix the solution to the strength recommended on the label for disinfecting surfaces.
Sowing your seeds
Place your seed starting mix in a bucket and stir in enough water to moisten it uniformly. Next, fill the containers with the pre-moistened mix up to ¼ inch below the top of the container. Gently pack in the mix. Before adding seeds, be sure to read the seed packet instructions on how deep to plant. To increase chances of success, plant 2 to 3 seeds in each cell or container. If one seed fails, you can depend on the others to grow in its place. Once the seedlings are well-established, you will pinch out the weakest seedlings in each cell, giving the strongest survivor room to grow. Finally, identify each container with a label that includes the plant variety, the date you planted it, and number of days to germinate. This will help you to recognize any problems that may arise during the sprouting process.
Chose the right location
Choose a location which consistently has an air temperature above 60°F. If this does not exist, use a seed-heating pad. Once the seeds have surfaced, they will need bright light to continue growing. Exercise caution with windowsills. They can be excessively hot during the day and fatally cool at night. If a windowsill is the only option, try placing seeds on a south facing window. Fluorescent lights can be a great solution.
Germinating seeds need a consistent moisture level, comparable to that of a wrung out sponge. Cover containers with plastic wrap or a plastic dome and occasionally mist soil with a spray bottle. This will provide just enough moisture to encourage seeds to germinate. Remove the plastic as soon as sprouts emerge and continue to water whenever the soil feels dry to the touch.
Hardening off seedlings
If your seeds spent most of their early stages indoors, they will not be accustomed to the outdoor environment. Before planting them in the garden, take the time to harden off your seedlings.
The final tip I will impart is to have patience with the process. Growing your own seedlings takes time, but the rewards are worth every bit of the wait.