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Planting from Seed

With the current health situation, its best to avoid heading out to pick up plants, so why not start them at home from seed?

What's required?

Seeds- If you're new to seed starting, begin with easy, reliable seeds, including tomato, pepper, beans, basil, zinnia, marigold, cosmos, and sunflower. These all germinate readily and grow quickly. If you want more of a challenge, great pollinator plants such as milkweed and butterfly weed require stratification. This means that the seeds need a cold period, where you store them in damp paper in the fridge for a period of time) More info on how to do this is found on our milkweed page under Spring planting.

Something to grow them in- Almost any clean container may be used for seed starting provided it allows for good drainage and is at least 2” deep. Save money and do your part for the environment by reusing cottage cheese and yogurt containers, aluminum pans, or other clean containers you have sitting around. Yo can even cut toilet paper tubes in half

You can purchase trays for planting in. Some with holes to help with drainage, but can also leak on your floor. Others have no drainage holes.

This year, I am using peat pellets. I typically avoid these, but if I had purchased or reused pots, I would need planting medium. By ordering these pellets, it cut down in shipping size and weight.

Planting Medium- I like to save money where possible, but trying to use soil from your yard is not the way to go about this. Garden soil is too dense for the job and contains weed seeds and possibly pathogens.

There are special types of growing medium for starting seeds. Growing media have three main functions: 1) supply roots with nutrients, air, and water, 2) allow for maximum root growth, and 3) physically support the plant.

Sunshine- whether a sunny window, or even better artificial sunlight form a growlight.

Water - Don't want your tender seedlings to get thirsty.

Timing - The goal is to grow seedlings that are the ideal size for transplanting into the garden at the proper time. Your sowing date will depend on:

  • your average last spring frost date. Here in the Hamilton area is thought to be April 25 (thank you farmers almanac!);

  • whether the plant prefers cool or warm growing conditions;

  • how quickly the seed germinates and grows.

Most seed packets suggest a planting time, such as "sow seeds indoors six weeks before your average last frost date."

Patience- If you are like me, its sometimes hard to be patient while waiting for the seeds to germinate, but give them time and hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised by the results. If you really are impatient, grow some radishes. Those little guys shoot up practically overnight!

Now What Do I Do?

Now that you've gathered your materials what are you supposed to do? Its not just a quick sprinkle of seed, then put the container in a sunny location.

Seed Depth

You need to plant the seeds at the correct depth. A seed contains a limited supply of stored food to nourish it during germination. If you plant it too deep, it will run out of food before it reaches the light and grows big enough to start producing its own. Some seeds require light to germinate; the seed packet should say this. Most seed packets tell you how deep to plant. A rule of thumb is to sow seeds two or three times as deep as they are wide.

Keep your seed starting mix moist

Seedling roots need both air and water. Strive to keep the mix moist like a damp sponge that contains both air and water, not saturated.

After sowing, set the containers in a warm location

On top of the refrigerator is a great spot. Nice and warm, and unlikely to get knocked over. Check every day for signs of growth!

Begin fertilizing seedlings when they're an inch or two tall, or when they have their second set of true leaves. Use a half-strength fertilizer. Organic fertilizers are a good choice, since they provide a range of nutrients, including micronutrients.

Remove any cover

Once your seeds germinate, if you use a container with a green house cover remove it. The greenhouse cover holds in moisture, raising the humidity for fast germination. As soon as you see the first tiny sprout, remove the cover. This allows air to circulate around seedlings, minimizing disease problems.

As soon as seedlings emerge, place pots in a bright, cool location

Now they are growing they no longer receive energy from their seed, they need energy from the sun or grow light. Don't let them get too hot though. You'll get sturdier, stockier seedlings if you grow them at temperatures in the high 60s. Finding a cooler room in your house or garage, while still maintaining a good light source, will help them thrive. At higher temperatures, seedlings may get leggy.

Thin out the weak

This next part can be hard, but only the strong should survive. A few weeks after seeds start growing, they may start crowding each other. When that happens, usually when they've grow 2 leaves or so, its time to thin the seedlings. Choose the strongest seedling and removing the others nearby. This gives the remaining seedling room to grow. Although you can try to separate seedlings and replant, invariably you'll damage some roots, setting back growth. Instead of pulling out the weak, which can disturb the roots of the strong, snip them off at the soil line.

Begin fertilizing weekly

Begin fertilizing seedlings when they're an inch or two tall, or when they have their second set of true leaves. Use a half-strength fertilizer. Organic fertilizers are a good choice, since they provide a range of nutrients, including micro-nutrients.

Happy growing! Share you seed pictures with us on facebook @ButlerSWCD


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