It’s early spring and this is the time of year when people begin to think about starting plants at home for summer flowers and vegetables.
Starting and growing seeds at home is a fun way to save money and learn about the plants in your garden.
It’s really easy to start seeds at home and there are only a few important rules to follow that will make the effort a success.
Its important to note the zone or climate for the plant you wish to grow. This is very important for growing perennial flower plants as some plants can not take cold winters and will die.
Other considerations are for crops that take a long hot season to mature. Read the label to determine this information and ask your neighbors or the seed-man at the local farm center.
Other consideration might be sun light or water requirements as some plants want sun and some don’t and some plants like it dry and some like it wet. It’s all on the label or go to the seed company web site to check.
Other considerations might be soil temperature for vegetable seeds or pot size for container gardens.
It may be necessary to start some plants indoors, especially if the area has cool spring weather. Our zone 4 has cool weather and so we figure the date to plant out doors is about memorial day. Other areas will be different but this determines if and when the plants should be started indoors.
Equipment for starting indoors: Seeds, seed starting mix or some kind of soil ( preferably sterile ), containers for starting the seeds and transplanting the starts, some kind of fertilizer and very important, a source of light. The sun works best but even a very sunny window may not be enough to satisfy all plants. For example begonias need somewhere around 12 hours of light to do well. A sunny window may seem like a perfect place to start plants, and it can be done, but overhead lighting, preferably florescent, is the best. Plain tubes will work but you could use the growlux type bulbs.
To germinate the seeds: First check the seed packet and see if the seeds need to be buried, or if they need light to germinate. Yes some seeds need light so be sure to check.
Start with a shallow container and fill it with a few inches of seed starting mix. Plant the seeds according to the direction on the package and lightly water. Then cover the soil with plastic wrap. Just lay the wrap on the soil and put the container in a place where the temperature will be at least 65 degrees, more may be better.
Check the package for the germination time and peek under the plastic from time to time, making sure the soil is just da[, not dry or soggy.
When the plants begin to sprout remove the plastic and make sure they do not dry out. Don’t drownd the plants, but keep them damp.
Here is where the light is important. The lights must be about 1 inch above the plants. If the plants do not get enough light they will be leggy and less likely to thrive. The lights can be raised and lowered easily if they are hung on light chain with s hooks. As the sprouts grow the lights can be raised, keeping the lamps about 1 inch above the plants.
This is not to say that plants could not be started in a sunny window or cold frame but windows do not transmit enough light for plants to do well and cold frames are not for starting and germination of all crops and flowers. And cold frames can get hot enough to cook plants if some kind of ventilation is not provided.
Just germinated seeds have all the nourishment they need in the seed but when small leaves start to form you can lightly fertilize them with a diluted fertilizer with a high phosphorous, low nitrogen ratio.
When some true leaves are sprouting its time to transplant.
The new container will be determined by the size of the plant and how long it must be kept. Plastic containers can be purchased but yogurt containers, milk cartons, egg crates and other containers will do as well. Use an ice pick or other tool to punch small drainage holes in the bottom of the containers. Larger holes will let the soil breath.
A good way to safely transplant seedlings it to use a spoon to scoop the roots up. Fill the new container with growing mix and make a depression in the center deep enough for the roots of the transplant. For plants like tomatoes it is OK to bury them right up to their necks. The plants will form roots all along the stem.
After a week or so it is OK to fertilize the plants again and in some cases it good to let the plants dry out a bit. Not bone dry but let them have some time between waterings. When they are watered make sure the water soaks deep, or the plant may develop a shallow root system.
All the time make sure they get plenty of light.
The plants may need to be transplanted several times depending on the size of the plant and the amount of time the plant must be kept in doors.
The next step is moving the plants outside. Care must be taken when taking the plants out doors. The plant is not used to the bright light, wind and temperature extremes.
Hardening off is the term for the transition from indoor plant to outdoor plant.
For the first day or so bring the plants out for a short period. Place the plants in the shade and out of the wind for a few hours each day. Check them often for water as the plants will dehydrate rapidly out doors.
After a few days the plants can spend more time out and a few hours in the morning or evening sun. After a week or so of moving the plants in and out of the sun they can be left in the sun, unless they are a shade plant of course.