Seed Starting Tips
By Jessica Kendall
Many of us are working on starting our own gardens this year – be it a patio garden or a yard-garden, and a lot of us are starting those gardens from seed indoors. Whether we’re growing food to eat or flowers to create our own outdoor oasis, we want to offer some tips to help fellow gardeners succeed in growing from seed!
How to grow plants from seed?
Tip Number One – Make sure your seeds are getting plenty of light.
Most seeds need light to germinate (“germination” occurs when the seed opens up and begins to grow into a plant), and all seedlings need a lot of light to grow. Some seeds like Sweet Pea need darkness to germinate, and other seeds like Poppy need only be pressed on the surface of the soil because they need a lot of light to germinate. The best way to make sure that your seeds and seedlings are going to get enough light is to use a grow lamp. Sunny windows are great, but windows are coated to filter out a significant portion of UV rays, so our plants aren’t getting as much true light as we think they are. You’ll want your seeds and seedlings to get between 12 and 16 hours a day of full UV exposure.
Tip Number Two – Choosing a good soil is important, but equally as important is pre-wetting the soil before you fill your growing containers. When soil has been sitting for a while and is dry (this can even happen in bags), it can become “hydrophobic,” meaning it will not easily soak up water that is poured onto it. Getting the soil to the point that it soaks up water again can take a lot of mixing, which you don’t want to be doing after you’ve planted your seeds! When soil gets very dry, you’ll want to pour your soil into a bucket, and just add a cup or so of water at a time and stir until it is nice and moist. You don’t want the soil to be dripping wet, but you want it to clump together well. Fill the container you’re using to start your seeds with your nice clumpy soil and gently pack the soil down. It’s best for the roots to have some soil packed around them when you transfer from your growing container to your bed or final container so that the roots are nice and secure and protected from damage.
Tip Number Three – Watering seeds and seedlings in a balanced way is another key to success. Too much water and you risk Damping-Off – a condition caused by a bacteria that can grow on the surface of the soil and kill seedlings by pinching them off at the soil level. One way to keep this from happening is to sprinkle a little cinnamon on the surface of the soil. Cinnamon has natural antibacterial properties that will help keep bad bacteria at bay without affecting the seeds or seedlings. Once Damping-Off takes hold it’s not possible to get rid of it, so try to remove any affected area to avoid its spread to other seedlings. If you see a fuzzy white substance on the soil, don’t worry. You can’t see Damping-Off (you would only notice that the stem is browning at the soil level and the seedling is dying), and this fuzzy white substance is usually innocuous. Once the seedlings have their first set of true leaves (the first leaves you see from a seedling are not true leaves – those will be the next set of leaves), they are no longer susceptible to Damping-Off.
Tip Number Four – Paying close attention to the planting instructions on your seed packets will also help your germination rate. Seed packets have a lot of good information (and if you’re growing seeds from Botanical Interests, don’t forget to look inside the packet for even more information!) and will give you the information you need for planting and cultivating your plants. Some seeds need to be planted deeper into the soil, some need only be pressed onto the surface, some need heat, and some do better when soaked or when their outer shell is snipped.
Tip Number Five – Heat mats are not necessary, but they are a great way to speed up and encourage germination. Some seeds prefer cool soil (like Chamomile, for example) but many seeds like warm soil to germinate. Heating mats made for starting seeds will be set to an appropriate temperature and will be left on while you grow your seedlings indoors.