Spring is creeping in, hallelujah, and it’s time for us to start digging in the dirt. For all of you frustrated gardeners that live in colder climes I bet you can’t wait to start planting your garden beds with flowers, herbs and vegetables. Over the long winter you forget how much you miss those showy blooms and the riot of color a beautiful garden can supply.
If you live up north, there are a variety of ways to cope with the short growing season. Frost, which can happen as late as May or June, delays your plans for planting seeds. With the many quick growing plants this does not pose a problem but with vegetables and ornamentals a little head start is very helpful for healthy lush plants.
Starting those plants indoors solves the problem of unwelcome frost. Getting an early start indoors will really make a difference for frost intolerant plants. Another benefit of starting seeds indoors is that as soon as the frost danger has passed, you can plant your seedlings into your garden giving you a good extra month of gorgeous blooming flowers.
When starting seeds indoors, you must simulate the same conditions as those planted outside. Your basics for all plant life, whether inside or out, are soil, water and light. The difference is that your indoor seedlings will need a little more attention and each plant will have its own considerations.
Always start with sterilized soil, this is essential. There is a fungus known as Damping-off-Disease that can wipe out your hard work in a matter of days. For some reason the propagation of plants indoors allows just the right conditions for the spores of these fungi to grow rampantly.
You can easily avoid this plight by using sterile soil or a sterile medium. You can use your own soil but it involves a lot of work and may not be worth the effort when commercial mediums are readily available. To use your own soil, you must sterilize it in the oven after sifting out the clumps and debris. Most commercial mediums sometimes referred to as “soil less” are usually a combination of peat moss and vermiculite. When using these mediums make sure it is clearly marked on the bag that they are sterilized.
After deciding the medium that you will use, there are a variety of containers available to start your seeds. I have used flats, peat pots, dixie cups and even egg cartons successfully. As with any plant, the size of the container used is determined by the plant you are growing and only experience can guide you here.
Seedlings require an enormous amount of light, either sunlight or artificial light or a combination of both. If they don’t get sufficient light the plants will get “leggy” or “spindly”, denying them a healthy start on the way to your garden. Even in a bright window with a lot of sun you may still need to use artificial light. If you do need to use artificial light, buy bulbs that are manufactured specifically for that purpose. Even though they are for the singular purpose of growing plants you still must keep them on for at least fourteen (14) hours a day. No artificial light can compensate for the intensity of direct sunlight.
The most important element of growing your seedlings indoors is watching the moisture. They must be kept moist but not soggy. The most advantageous way to water is from the bottom. Set your pots in a tray and pour the water into the tray allowing the pots to soak up all of the water. Never let your pots stand in water as this will cause them to rot. If you have your pots in a very sunny window place them in a tray with gravel. Keep the gravel “watered” just under the pots to keep them from drying out.
When you first start your seedlings cover them tightly with plastic wrap. This helps to maintain warmth and moisture, but be careful to uncover them when they begin to sprout so they don’t smother.
I know you may become anxious in January to start getting ready for planting season but it is important not to start you seeds indoors to early. If they outgrow your pots, you will have to thin them and transplant them to bigger containers. This is not the best scenario. For best results, you want to transplant them once outdoors as soon as they are large and healthy enough to survive. A good rule of thumb to start with is four to six weeks after sowing the seeds, making sure they have at least two sets of leaves. Right before transplanting your thriving seedlings, feed them with a very weak solution of a water soluble fertilizer to give them strength through the transplanting process.
Keep a diary on what has worked for you, since experience is always the best teacher. Experiment a little each year with one or two new flowers, herbs or vegetables, this will add variety and spice to your garden. Go to gardening forums on the internet and join the group, the experiences of others is always helpful and the spirit of community is enjoyable and satisfying.
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