Starting Your Plants from Seed
Many flowers, vegetables and herbs can easily be grown from seed. It is an easy and rewarding experience. The proper time for planting seeds depends upon when plants may normally be moved outdoors. The periods range from 4 to 14 weeks, depending upon the speed the seedlings grow and the conditions in your home. The first thing to do is to check the back of the seed packets to determine when to start your seeds for planting times. Some seeds should be started inside, while others such as lettuce and spinach should be planted directly into the garden.
Step-By-Step Seed Starting Instructions
- Start with clean containers that allow drainage. Clear plastic dome covers,”mini-greenhouses,” are very helpful in the germination process to maintain moist conditions and hold in warmth.
- Use a good sterile potting soil to fill the containers. Do not use soil from your garden. Moisten the soil so that it is damp (not wet) and fill just shy of the top of the container.
- Place one to two seeds on top of the soil. Sprinkle lightly with more soil, vermiculite or sand to cover the seeds.
- Mist to moisten the top layer and cover with plastic dome to keep moist.
- Place in a warm location, such as the top of the fridge, near the furnace or on top of a special heating unit. Remember to check the seed package for the germination instructions.
- In two to 14 days seeds will sprout. Remove the plastic cover and water from the bottom.
- Provide as much sunlight or artificial light as possible. It is recommended that grow light be within two to three inches of the foliage and set for 18 hours on and six hours off. If using natural light on a sill, mirrors and aluminum foil can be used to intensify the gloomy winter sun. An unobstructed southwest exposure is the best.
- Check the water and mist everyday. Let the soil dry, but never let the sprouts wilt. Fans provide good air circulation and help produce stockier seedlings. A water soluble, balanced fertilizer should be added when the first true leaves begin to appear.
- Transplant when the soil drys out too quickly or when the roots have reached the drainage holes. Again, use clean pots or six packs depending on the plants.
- Gradually harden off seedlings, adapting them to the light and temperatures of the outdoors a few hours at a time, before transplanting to the garden.
Transplanting and Thinning
As soon as seedlings have developed at least one set of true leaves and are large enough to handle, they should be transplanted to individual pots or spaced out in flats. Failure to transplant promptly results in crowded, spindly seedlings that will not develop properly. Use a good sterile potting mix (seed starting mixes are available).
To transplant, carefully dig up the small plants with a knife, spatula, or wooden label. Let this group of seedlings fall apart, and pick out individual plants. Occasionally if seedlings have been too close, they are difficult to separate. Gently ease them apart in small groups which will make it easier to separate individual plants. Avoid tearing roots in the process. Handle small seedlings by their leaves; small thin stems break and crush easily. Poke a hole into the soil where the seedling will be planted. Make it deep enough so that the seedling can be put at the same depth it was growing in the seed flat. Small plants or slow growers may be placed 1 inch apart and rapid growing, large seedlings may be positioned about 2 inches apart. After planting, firm the soil and water gently.
To harden-off seedlings grown indoors under lights, take them outside a little longer each day, following this schedule, which starts with four hours of sun and ends two weeks later with a full day.
What seeds to start in February
- The vegetables that should be started indoors in February include: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, kale, collards and kohlrabi.
- Many flowers may also be started from seed in February. Some varieties include: Impatiens, calendula, sweet peas, nasturtium, violas and pansies.
For other seed planting dates, check out this great online planting calendar. Select the final spring frost date (our average last frost date is April 15th), and hit the calculate button. The chart provides plants and dates when to start seeds indoors or directly in the ground and when to transplant to the garden. Click here to visit the planting calendar.