Seed Starting Tips – #1

Seed Starting Tips – #1

It may be winter outside, but that don’t let that stop you for planning for the coming growing season. At this time of year many gardeners make plans for starting seeds. In fact, those seeds that require more time to germinate, or those seedlings that take longer to grow, can be started early and grown under lights.

Here are the first of a series of tips for starting plants from seeds:

1. Read the Packet! Read the seed packets carefully to learn about timing and special germination requirements. For example, plants that grow quickly such as zinnias or most vegetables shouldn’t get started until six weeks before they can be put in the garden. Plants that germinate and grow slowly, however, such as peppers and most perennials can be started about three months before planting.

Some seeds germinate best when poked into the soil and others when sprinkled directly on top. Some need darkness to sprout, others light. Most seed companies put all of this information on the seed packet.

2. Use Seed Starting Mix! Using seed starting mix is a good idea for several reasons. These mixes are finer in texture than regular potting soils so tiny seeds aren’t in danger of being smothered by large pieces of bark. Secondly, some potting soils have fertilizer in them that’s appropriate for larger plants but could be too strong for young seedlings. And finally, seed starting mixes are formulated to hold moisture while the crops are germinating and the seedlings tiny. For you, all of this means a greater chance of success.

Never use garden soil for starting your seeds. You may not realize it, but there are usually dormant weed seeds in most soils, so you won’t know which seedlings that are sprouting are desirable plants, and which ones are weeds.

(Here’s a fun project for adults or kids: scoop up a random two cups of soil from any part of your property and put it in a shallow pan or pot. Place that in a sunny window and keep the dirt damp. You may be surprised at how many seedlings appear!)

3. Lights Should Be Close! Strong light is very important for developing sturdy plants and most of us don’t have enough light coming through the windows. If you’re serious about starting seeds, you will want to investigate growing them under lights. This is especially important if you’re starting plants that will be inside for longer than three weeks.

The most important aspect of growing this way is keeping the lights close to the plants. Frames that allow for the raising and lowering of the lights, such as on the Jump Start Grow Light System, are perfect for this. They allow the lights to be two inches above the seedlings when they are just sprouting, and two to three inches above the plants as they continue to grow.

4. Earthworm Magic! One way to mildly feed new seedlings is with earth worm castings. You can mix a small amount in with your seed starting mix or stir a couple of tablespoons into the watering can before you water your seedlings. Earthworm castings not only act as a mild growth stimulant, but have disease suppressing qualities as well.

Seed starting mixes are also great for rooting cuttings at any time of year.
These Jump Start frames allow the lights to be raised as plants grow.
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  1. joyce holster on January 7, 2016 at 6:44 am

    I am getting rid of a wood stove and want to put raise and lower grow lights suspended from ceiling where spotlights are now. Do you have a recommendation for this kind of ceiling system? Thanks.

    • CLFornari on January 7, 2016 at 8:42 am

      Yes, if you are using lights it’s helpful to raise and lower them. Ideally a standard fluorescent light or gro-bulb should be only a few inches above the plants. So as they grow, you’ll need to raise them up. I’ve used regular “shop light” fixtures with a combination of a regular tube and a gro-light, and placed this on chains that hang from hooks. It’s easy to pull up to a different link of chain to keep the bulbs about 3″ from the plants.

  2. Mark Kilmurray on January 7, 2016 at 6:54 am

    Thank-you for the info, last year I started seeds inside with a heating pad and a grow light and I had the best year in my garden. In a few weeks I will start my tomatoes.

    • CLFornari on January 7, 2016 at 8:43 am

      Glad you started seeds last year, Mark! It’s one of my favorite things in the spring is to look in on my flats and see what’s newly germinated. A great way to start the day!

  3. Seed Starting Pitfalls « Hyannis Country Garden on January 25, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    […] a previous post we gave some tips for starting seeds. In this post I thought I’d talk about what to do if […]

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