Seed Starting Time

Monday, April 12th, 2010 by Jenny Watts
    • Gladiolus bulbs come in every color of the rainbow. Plant them this month for summer flowers.
    • Spring feeding of trees and shrubs can begin now. Mulch with manure or apply fish emulsion or commercial fertilizers.
    • New rose bushes may have been damaged by the cold weather this week. Prune back dead shoots and new growth will come out to replace it soon.
    • Spring vegetables can be planted now. Start your garden with broccoli, cabbage, lettuce spinach and chard. It pays to grow your own!
    • Asparagus, whose delectable spears are even sweeter when home-grown, should be planted right away. Prepare a fertile bed for these long-lived vegetables.

Growing from Seeds

When spring arrives, it’s time to plant some seeds. There’s something very rewarding about following the whole life cycle of your plants from start to finish, and trying different varieties from the usual ones you can find at the nursery.

Seed racks at local nurseries, are full of new types of flowers, vegetables and herbs. For a very small investment, you can grow a whole garden of different varieties.

The essential elements for growing from seed are bright light, bottom heat and moisture. Many seeds will germinate without light, but they must be moved into bright light as soon as they are up. Bottom heat is not essential, but it speeds up the process. Moisture is important, especially for seeds which are germinated on top of the soil. A plastic dome over the flat, or strips of plastic wrap will keep the moisture content just right.

There are two ways to plant the seeds, depending on whether you want to transplant the tiny seedlings or not. You can plant 10 or 15 seeds in a single cell of a cell-pak and then transplant each plant into its own pot in about two weeks. Or you can put 2 or 3 seeds in each cell and remove all but the strongest one after they germinate. It may depend on how large your germinating area is.

Plants can be grown on the windowsill, but you will get stockier, stronger plants if you use fluorescent lights suspended about 4 inches above the pots. They can be left on 24 hours a day or at least 12 hours a day.

Most perennials do best when planted on top of the soil. Sprinkle them over the moistened seeding mix, spray with water, then cover with plastic wrap. Place under the lights and most seeds will germinate in 5-10 days. In about two weeks, you can remove the plastic wrap then water as needed. Growing plants need good ventilation. If necessary, set up a small fan to keep the air moving.

It is important that your pots and propagation area are clean and sterile. Soak pots briefly in a 10% solution of clorox and water before filling them with bagged seeding mix. Clean pots and moving air will usually prevent “damping off”, a disease that causes young plants to keel over.

When should you start your seeds? Tomatoes and peppers should be started right away, along with sunflowers and marigolds. Squash, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins and basil can wait until mid-April or May along with zinnias.

The last thing to remember is not to plant them outside without hardening them off first. It’s best to get them acclimated to it gradually. Some people take them out a little longer every day, starting with an hour the first day. Or you can put them out in a cold frame for a few weeks, lifting the plastic for a few hours a day.

If this is your first try at seed starting, it might be better to start small. Remember, there is always next year when it comes to gardening!