Annuals · Perennials · Vegetable Gardening

Seed Starting Tips

Seedling Emerging

Seed starting is in full swing at my house. Seedlings of broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, lettuce, peppers, Swiss chard and several different kinds of perennials are all growing. Tomato seeds will be planted this weekend, along with annuals – lots of annuals.

If you haven’t started any seeds yet, there is still plenty of time. Go ahead, do it. You can choose from a much larger selection of varieties of your favorite flowers and vegetables; save a ton of money; and it’s fun to garden inside before we can use our green thumbs outside.

Here are tips to get you started.

Swiss Chard Seedlings

Don’t start your seeds too soon. Even with artificial lighting, it is difficult to provide enough light to keep seedlings from stretching. Also, and you may find this hard to believe but, as seedlings grow, they get bigger. Unless you have a large space designated for young plants, space might quickly become an issue. Small plants quickly catch up once they are planted outside.

Directions of Seed Packet

Read and follow directions on seed packets. Seed packets offer a wealth of information about planting the seeds inside. There are directions for when to plant, how deep and how far apart to plant, and whether seeds should be started indoors or planted directly in the garden. They also include special instructions for seeds that need to be nicked, soaked or chilled before planting.

Plant seeds in a very light soilless potting mix or seed-starting mix. Garden soil is too heavy and may contain soil-borne diseases. Some potting mixes are also too heavy for seedlings to push their way through.

Label Seedlings

Label plants. Don’t trust your memory. It is easy to confuse trays of seedlings when there are dozens of them, and many look similar when they are young.

Cover seeds with plastic wrap or put seed trays inside large, clear plastic bags until they germinate. This creates the humid environment seeds need to germinate.

Seedlings Close to Lights

As soon as seedlings emerge, move them into bright light for 12 to 18 hours every day. A greenhouse is ideal, but how many of us have one of those? Artificial lights are the next best thing. At my house, they hang from the undersides of shelves on chains so they can be raised or lowered as needed. The lights hang just an inch or so above seedlings and move up an inch at a time as they grow. This close-knit relationship keeps seedlings from stretching.

Brocolli 'Batavia' Seedlings

Once seedlings get their first set of true leaves, it’s time to start fertilizing. The first two leaf-like structures are really part of the seed. These cotyledons provide food for the seedling until true leaves develop. Feed seedlings with a liquid, balanced fertilizer mixed at half strength once a week. Fertilizing can also be done by misting seedlings with compost tea.

Thin Seedlings

Thin seedlings so they grow at the spacing recommended on the back of the seed packet. It can be torturous for gardeners, accustomed to nurturing plants, to pluck seedlings from the soil. Sacrificing a few seedlings allow the remaining plants to grow stronger.

Set up a small fan to gently blow seedlings. In addition to reducing the development of fungal diseases, it encourages seedlings to grow stronger stems. This will make it easier on plants when they are introduced to conditions outside.

If you are already growing seeds, share what you’re growing, and if you have more tips, share those too.  This weekend is a great time to plant more seeds (or start planting seeds). Garden with me!


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