5 Tips for Seed Starting
As we wait for nature’s palette to reveal itself from under the frozen ground, we can create our own palette by starting seeds indoors. The seed catalogues are full of magnificent colours of thriving, healthy plants but sometimes the hope that we carefully nurture in the cell packs never comes to fruition. While reading the instructions on the seed packet is very helpful, here are some other tips to help ensure that your seedlings will mature into healthy specimens and reward you with a season of colour:
- Soil: Using a good quality seed-starting mixture is the perfect beginning to ensuring a successful project. Use warm water to moisten the soil, not only to hasten germination but also to soothe your gardener’s soul and loosen winter’s icy grip.
- Seed Depth: Ensure that you’re planting the seeds at the proper depth. If there are no instructions as to the seed depth, the general rule is to plant the seed three times as deep as the diameter of the seed. Many seeds require light in order to germinate, in which case simply press the seed into the soil surface and mist them daily to prevent them from drying out.
- Prevent Damping Off: Many new gardeners trying their hand at sowing seeds indoors are devastated to find that their nurtured seedlings are laying collapsed on the soil surface. This is generally caused by “Damping Off”, a fungal disease that prefers cool, dimly lit and wet conditions. Although there is no cure, there are measures that we can take to inhibit its growth:
- Set a fan on low speed to maintain air movement.
- Place a germination mat under the seedling tray to help to maintain soil temperature.
- Improve lighting by making sure that your seedling tray is set in a sunny window or use grow lights.
- Sufficient Lighting: Many seedlings tend to look rather leggy as they reach for the light. Moving the seed tray to a sunnier window will help prevent this, however, you can use full spectrum fluorescent grow lights on a timer to provide good quality light and more daylight hours to encourage plant growth and flowering. Pinch the plant tops back using your finger tips or snips in order to encourage bushier growth. Be sure to maintain a two-inch gap between the lights and the seedlings and adjust them as they mature.
- Hardening Off: This is an important step towards realizing your spring dreams. Approximately one week before the last frost is expected, begin exposing the plants to the outdoors in order to help acclimatize them to their permanent home. This transition avoids the shock that sometimes takes place with seedlings that have grown accustomed to being coddled throughout their lifespan. Initially, place them in a shady area protected from harsh wind where they will eventually adapt to fluctuating temperatures, rain, and gentle breezes. Throughout the week, gradually move them from solid shade to a filtered shade and then on to full sun. Be sure to bring them inside daily, incrementally increasing their outdoor time.
Once planted, you can enjoy the fruits of your labour as will all of the busy pollinators and wildlife. If a frost warning is forecasted, simply lay sheets of newspaper over your plants. Spray them with a fine mist of water to help keep the breeze from moving them. In the morning, remove the newspapers and the plants that you nurtured carefully over the last two months will have safely endured one of nature’s first threats of the season.