With the weather getting warmer, it’s time to get those seeds started inside so they are ready for the warm weather when it finally comes! It can feel overwhelming starting plants form seed sometimes, but it is a truly rewarding experience. All a seed needs is soil, water, and light.. if you give it that.. you will succeed!
On that note, Here at Garden STL we have just set up a Sprout Box nearby! A Sprout Box is a place to share extra seedlings and garden tools and information with each other. You can read more about the Sprout Box Project HERE! Over the growing season we will be placing various garden resources, seeds, and plants in the sprout box. Come on by and share your extras as well! We will post on our Facebook page each week what seedlings and other surprises are in the sprout box. Be sure to “Like” our FB page to get the updates!
Please post photos of the seedlings you grow from the Sprout Box on our Facebook page as well!
We would love to hear how they are coming along as the seasons progress. As always, be kind and take what you need, and share what you can’t use for others. We are so excited to see where you all will take this project moving forward!!!! If you have any suggestions or ideas for new additions to the box, please share!
When it comes to growing your own seedlings, the biggest mistake I see is not giving them enough light. It may seem like a windowsill is enough light, but often isn’t enough to give the plant the boost it needs to grow up strong. The simple addition of a desk lamp over your seedlings will help them stay a bit warmer in the cool months before spring and give them enough light that they will grow up healthy and strong.
The best sign that your seedlings are not getting enough light is that they look spindly and stretched out. They are attempting to reach for more light. One way to think about this is that they don’t spend as much energy growing outwards but instead upwards to reach the little light they can get.
Here are 10 steps you can follow to make growing your own seedlings easy, painless, and even fun!
Remember, growing in small quantities at first will help you give your plants more attention to help them grow properly. You’ll also be able to spot problems and fix them much sooner.
1. DECIDING ON THE RIGHT SOIL
Use a good seed starting mixture – I use a fine coconut fiber mixture. As the plants get a bit bigger and the roots fill out, it might be helpful to add a diluted fertilizer to the water you are using to water your plants. You can also mix in a mild fertilizer granule into your coco mix as well
2. COVERING YOUR SEEDS
Plant at 1-2x the seed size depth. Be sure to consult the seed packet for sowing information, as some seeds require light to germinate, while others like it dark. (if nothing is listed on the packet, you can assume that the seeds like it dark to germinate and should be covered with a bit of soil)
3. DON’T LET THEM GET OVERCROWDED
Be sure not to plant too many seeds in one pot or cell. Over crowding can cause setbacks in your seedlings growth and stunt their progress. Be sure to thin out your seedlings early to get the best quality of seedlings that will also be the strongest as the season progresses. 2-3 seeds per tray cell, or small pot is usually a good number. For larger seeds like squash, 1-2 seeds would work best. Once all your seeds are sprouting, go through and gently pull, or cut the smaller of the two seedlings to give the larger more room to grow.
4. KEEPING THEM WELL WATERED
Water well, but not soak. A seed will not germinate while it is dry.Keep warm, and damp. Cover with a plastic wrap or tray cover until your seedlings have sprouted. Once uncovered, the seedlings will most likely need additional water every day. If your seedlings are in a seed flat tray, lifting the tray to feel it’s weight is a great way to see if they need to be watered. (Of course for this, you will want a watertight tray to set your seedling flat into so that it can hold water) When watering, try to water from below by filling the tray your seedlings are sitting in with water and letting the plants soak it up from the bottom as much as possible. This will help limit mold and other plant illnesses as well as promote root growth.
5. GIVING THEM LOTS OF LIGHT
Once your seedlings emerge, be sure to give them plenty of light. A windowsill may work for you, but if your seedlings start to look long, skinny and weak, chances are they need more light. Don’t be afraid to give them lots of light.
One simple fix is to set up a desk lamp pointing directly down on your seedlings. This will however heat up the seedlings and their soil quite a bit. You may find you are having to water much more than you are able with this option.
The best solution is a florescent light fixture with full spectrum (both cool and warm light being given off) bulbs in it. A cheap way to do this is simply hang a shop light or two from an existing shelf, set your seedlings underneath and be sure to check on them daily as they will dry out much faster with this extra light.
The best position for a light that is about 3″ away from the top of the seedling. I have my lights on a timer that keeps the lights on for 14 hours each day then off for 10 hours at night. Beings sure to give the plants some time to take a break from growing is important too. Try not to leave your lights on 24 hours as this can stress the plants out and weaken them as well.
6. SOWING IN BATCHES
Always check your seed packet for when to sow indoors or if it is better to sow them directly into the garden. Sow in small batches, a few weeks apart just as a back up in case pests or an early frost attacks one of your sets after being set outside. This will also help with staggering your harvest when they are ready. For example, so that all of your cucumbers aren’t ready on the same day!
7. TRANSPLANTING THEM TO LET THE ROOTS GROW
Once seedlings get their first set of real leaves, being sure not to squeeze the stem and bruising it, transplant the best, strongest looking seedlings into new, larger pots. Don’t forget to label each pot with the variety and date it was planted. Always water right away after transplanting. Be sure to continue to water regularly, checking on the at least once a day. They will dry out much faster now that they are getting bigger. If the seedlings are left in a pot that is too small, they will become root bound and will stop growing properly. This will also cause them to be stunted in their growth when you plant them outside as well.
8. GIVING THEM A GENTLE TRANSITION TO THE OUT-OF-DOORS
Directly going outside from being indoors all the time can be detrimental to a delicate young plant. The process of getting your young seedlings accustomed to the great outdoors is called “Hardening Off”. This is done by gradually taking them outside for a few hours at a time, increasing the time outside each day. For the first few days, be sure to keep them out of direct sun as well as extreme heat or cold.
When you transplant them to their final pots, or the final location in your garden, be sure to water and give the seedlings a bit of light fertilizer. This will help them settle in without too much shock. Your newly planted seedlings will need a bit of extra TLC (and water) for the next couple of days until they get fully adjusted to their new location.
10. A FINAL TIP (TO MAKE IT TO TEN OF COURSE)
A little tip on how to help promote strong stem growth is to set a small fan next to your seedlings. This will not only help with air movement with the plants, but it simulates a natural breeze which helps strengthen the stems which are often weaker in plants that are grown indoors until acclimated outside. This is also part of why it is important to gradually harden off your seedlings before letting them go all on their own in the garden.