An Early, Productive Start to Your Garden
Starting seeds indoors is an easy, efficient and cost-effective way to increase your garden’s success because it extends the growing season. This is particularly important in the Midwest where winter’s cooler temperatures shorten the outdoor growing season. Gardening favorites like tomatoes, peppers and broccoli are just some of the plants that greatly benefit from an early start.
Selecting the Right Products
Successful indoor seed starting relies on the use of the right products. Begin by selecting containers. Jiffy Peat Pellets offer an all-natural approach to plant propagation. They come pre-formed and are ready for planting. Jiffy Peat Pellets expand in water and their soft walls allow plant roots to breathe naturally as they emerge through the pellet walls. For mass seed planting, select sterilized containers such as shallow, divided seed trays with drainage holes. When it comes to filling your containers with potting mix, select a lightweight mix that drains well such as Stein Seed Starter Potting Mix.
The toughest part about selecting seeds for your garden will be narrowing it down! Stein Gardens & Gifts offers the Midwest’s largest selection of seeds. Be sure to stock up on gardening staples like tomatoes and cucumbers and perhaps you’ll want to try something new this year like squash or lemon basil.
Once you have your containers, potting mix and seeds, you are ready to start planting. Moisten your soil before you add it to the containers, making sure it is not soggy. Individual seed packets contain helpful planting information such as planting depth, germination time and other special requirements. As a general rule of thumb, fill your containers with potting mix and plant the seeds at a depth of four times their diameter. When working with small seeds simply sprinkle them over the top of the soil and cover them with a layer of screened potting mix. Cover your seeds with plastic to trap heat and keep the soil from drying out making sure to leave a one-inch gap at the top of the containers. You can use a heat mat such as the Hydrofarm Seedling Heat Mat to help speed up the germination process. Place your seeds in a window with moderate, indirect sunlight where the temperature remains between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit at night.
Caring for Your Seedlings
Once your seedlings are planted, keep the soil moist, but be careful not to overwater them. Use a spray bottle to water tiny seeds so they do not wash away under the pressure of a water stream. Watch for mold growth which often has a white, fuzz-like appearance. Check seedlings for sudden wilting and rotted stems caused by damping off. This fungus disease causes young seedlings to collapse. Remove infected plants as soon as they are discovered. Drench the soil with a fungicide labeled for this. Prevent this disease by using a sterile starter mix and clean containers.
When the seedlings first appear, remove the plastic covering and increase the amount of light they receive by adding artificial lighting or placing in a south-facing window. If you decide to use artificial light, maximize your success with the Jump Start Lighting Kit. It is easy to assemble and features a high output growth light fixture and bulb. Place lights 6 inches above the plants and keep them on for 16 hours a day. Lighting them longer will not help the plants, but will needlessly increase your electric bill. Fertilize with quarter to half strength complete fertilizer (one with nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) once a week after the seedlings have true leaves.
Transferring Your Plants Outdoors
Before starting seeds indoors, take time to calculate what date you wish to transfer various plants outdoors. Then, use the germination period and count the weeks backwards to determine when you should start the seeds indoors. This is especially important for sensitive plants such as tomatoes which should not be planted outside until after the last frost. Calculations should be based on the average last spring frost date (approximately May 15th in Southern Wisconsin). Acclimate your delicate plants to the outdoors by placing them in a sheltered location outside for one hour initially and gradually increasing this exposure over time. This will prepare the plants for the temperature fluctuations, windy conditions, and intense sun exposure that they will ultimately be growing in.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use any type of soil to start seeds?
You will want to use a sterile potting or seed starter mix. These mixes increase your success by retaining moisture, providing good drainage, and allowing you to start disease free.
Do you know what a heat mat does to help plants germinate and grow?
Seeds need warm temperatures to germinate; heat mats increase the temperature so your seeds germinate faster and grow faster.
Do I plant each seed in a separate pot?
This depends on the plant. Most plants can be started in a group and then transplanted to larger pots as they develop. Transplanting is easy. Once the first “true” leaves appear the plant can be moved to a larger pot. Gently lift the plant from the growing medium and make a hole in the center of the new pot. Water, fertilize and keep under grow lights. Make sure the first couple of times you water to use only ½ strength fertilizer.
What kind of lights should I use?
Cool, fluorescent lights.
How far above a plant should they be?
6 inches above the tops of the seedlings.
How long should they be on?
16 hours per day. Lighting the seedlings longer will not help the plants and will needlessly increase your electric bill.
My seedlings were growing well until all of a sudden they toppled over at the base. What happened?
When the stems of young seedlings become withered and topple over, they have probably been killed by a soil-borne fungus called "damping off." This fungus is difficult to eradicate once it is present in the soil, but you can avoid it by using a sterile, soilless growing medium, and by providing good air circulation.
The outdoor growing season is just around the corner. Visit Stein Gardens & Gifts today and let us help you make this year’s garden your most successful one yet!