Growing flowers and vegetables from seed can be very rewarding. Getting a jump on your gardening will boost your attitude in the middle of winter and help you get over a bad case of cabin fever. It can also give your garden a real jumpstart, because plants
started indoors and then moved outdoors when the time is right will usually flower and produce sooner than if they were started
Selecting the proper seeds can really help you start right. Some savvy gardeners save their own seeds, but this requires advanced
knowledge and techniques. If you’re buying your seeds, knowing what to look for can be just as good. Buying the best quality seeds
from a supplier with a great reputation will go a long way towards ensuring your success.
Packages of seeds should be kept cool and dry until you’re ready to plant them. If your seeds didn’t come in foil lines packages, you
can keep the paper envelopes in a closed glass container to protect them until you’re ready to plant.
Once you’ve decided on seeds, you’ll need the proper container to plant them in. The choices seem endless. Some people recycle yogurt containers or any other suitable pots that are the right size. A good option if you’re going to purchase something to start your
plants in is peat pots. These containers allow air circulation and good drainage, and can be planted intact when it comes time to
move your plants out into the real world. This means you won’t have to disturb the root system and risk damaging the plants.
The next consideration is what to plant your seeds in. There are many mediums to choose from, including potting soil, vermiculite,
and sphagnum moss. Some gardeners also use soil from their own gardens. When doing so, most experts recommend sterilizing the soil by baking it in the oven at around 200 degrees Fahrenheit until the soil is heated through. When using synthetic mixtures, remember that they have no fertility to them, and seedlings should be watered with whatever sort of fertilizer you like right after they emerge.
When planting seeds, I tend to keep one type of plant per flat to prevent any confusion. When doing this, I still plant everything in
neat little rows, but I know some gardeners who just sprinkle seeds randomly and have great luck with it. Large seeds, like watermelons and cucumbers, should get their own pots. You should cover up the seeds with dry vermiculite or moss and then mist to get things damp. The rule of thumb is to cover seeds with about 2 times their diameter of material, but remember that very fine seeds such as begonias and basil should just be sprinkled on top and not covered with any growing medium. Be sure to cover your flats or pots with clear plastic or glass.
Seeds should be stored in a warm location, around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and out of direct sunlight, until they germinate. After
germination, you can move your plants to direct sunlight and remove the covering. If all your seeds don’t germinate at the same time, it’s best to keep those that haven’t sprouted yet under the plastic, even if you have to cut it into strips to get it done. If seeds
are allowed to dry out before they germinate they could possibly die off.
Plenty of light and the correct temperatures give your newly germinated plants the best chance to thrive. Natural sunlight is great but not always available, so many people use fluorescent lights with much success. Temperatures need to be in the 65 degree range at night for most plants to survive, and about 10 degrees warmer during the day. Some plants don’t mind cooler temps, so be sure to check your seed package. Some folks use a humidifier close to the plants to keep them moist without overwatering.
Plants should be thinned to one per package or container to give them the best chance for healthy and vigorous growth. When thinning, don’t just pull the plants up, as this will disturb the surrounding root system. Simply use a pair of scissors and snip off weaklings right at dirt level. You can also very gently transplant or space out your veggies or flowers when they develop leaves, placing them in their own containers. Overcrowding results in plants that are skinny and weak, so thinning is a worthwhile activity.
Hardening is the process of conditioning your plants to be moved outdoors. For the best results, hardening should begin about 2 weeks before planting in the garden. Gradually introduce your plants to the outdoors by moving them outside to a shady location, moving them into the sunlight a little bit longer each day.
Remember to be gentle with your new plants, they are still tender and shouldn’t be placed outside on windy, rainy days or when the temperature is below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
When hardening is complete, it’s time to transplant your veggies and flowers. If temperatures dip, remember to keep them protected.
Lots of eager gardeners make the mistake of rushing the season and planting too early. Better to be safe than sorry. Rest assured
your plants will catch up and thrive.