Seed Starting 101

Sunflower seedlings, just three days after ger...

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Starting seeds indoors is a great way for gardeners to get a head-start on the growing season.  As a budget-conscious gardener, be aware that an initial investment of time, effort and space will provide you with a wider variety and greater quantity of plants at a fraction of the cost of purchasing seedlings.

All plants need light, water, nutrients and somewhere to grow. Plan your growing space in advance to make sure you will be providing the basics. Choose a space in your home that will hold the number of plants you plan to start – and keep in mind that once your seeds sprout, the new plants will have to be transplanted into larger containers and will need even more space! I use a spare bedroom in the house to start. As the transplanting progresses and I have more containers than space, I move plants to every available nook and cranny in the house – along the walls behind furniture, under tables, on top of book cases if necessary. Be creative, but be prepared.

Buy an adequate number of lights for your plants. Light won’t be needed until the seeds germinate, but I prefer to set up the lights in advance. Even though I won’t be turning them on for a week or two, having them in place before I plant is more convenient and easier before the room is full of containers.

As a cheap gardener, I passed on expensive plant lights and bulbs. Instead, I bought 48-inch shop lights with standard fluorescent bulbs. As long as the light is placed no more than 4 to 6 inches above the top of the plants, this kind of lighting is adequate.

You can start your seeds in virtually any inexpensive type of container that has adequate drainage, but don’t try to cut corners on the growing medium. Seed-starting mix is worth the small expense. It is far more porous than other soils and allows the roots of tender seedlings to get a good start. Never, ever use dirt from the garden, as it is too dense to allow proper root growth.

Your seed packets will tell you how far in advance of the last frost date to start your seeds. Mark the start dates for each crop on your calendar to remind you when to plant.

Also refer to package directions for sowing instructions. Planting depth is important. As a general rule, the smaller the seed, the closer to the surface it has to be planted.  Thoroughly moisten the soil with a mister to avoid disturbing the seeds.

Covering the containers with plastic wrap to help retain moisture and humidity until the plants germinate. Germination time varies; estimates are given on the seed packets. Keep the soil moist.

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