Whether you want the first bloom or want to extend your harvest, starting your seeds indoors can give you a jump-start. A few proven steps can help guarantee your success.
Start with good seed. Buying seed from a reputable supplier will help to ensure good germination. Check the date on the seed package to ensure the seeds are fresh.
For germination your seeds will need an adequate and continuous supply of moisture, proper temperature, oxygen and sometimes light.
The potting mix you use to start your seeds is critically important. Commercial potting soil, fine grade vermiculite or a mix of peat moss and vermiculite or a mix of peat moss and perlite are great choices.
Select containers that have sufficient drainage and work best for your needs. There are a wide variety of container options, flats and trays or sow directly into pots.
Proper time for sowing depends upon when plants will be moved outdoors. If you sow too early you will have to hold plants indoors too long and you’ll end up with tall, weak, spindly plants that don’t perform well in the garden. It is best to start most seedlings four to 12 weeks before the last spring frost. Your seed packet should have specific information for your particular seed.
When it’s time to sow fill the container to within ¾ inch of the top with thoroughly moistened growing medium. Firm with your fingers. If you are only using one type of seed, you can scatter the seeds. If not, it is best to make rows one to two inches apart. Sow seeds uniformly and thinly in rows. Label each row promptly with the plant type, variety, and date. If you are using cells, make two or three holes per cell. After sowing, spray with a fine mist. When the soil is saturated, set the container aside to drain. Once drained, place the entire container in a clear plastic bag to maintain moisture; no additional watering should be necessary until after seeds have germinated. Ensure the plastic is at least one inch above the soil. Place the container in a warm location of 65°-75°, but out of direct sunlight. Watch daily for germination.
After the first seedlings emerge, REMOVE the plastic. Move the container to a well-lit location such as a south facing window or under a fluorescent light. The temperatures should be 65°-70° during day and 55°-60° at night. Warmer temperatures will cause leggy plants. The seedlings will need to be watered with a diluted fertilizer solution soon after germination. Use a soluble 15-30-15 fertilizer at one-half the recommended strength for a few days after seedlings have germinated. Then fertilize at two-week intervals with the recommended dilution. Allow dryings between watering but do not allow seedlings to wilt. To maintain moisture in a dry environment the use a humidifier close to the growing area can be helpful. The seedlings are ready to transplant when their true leaves appear. True leaves emerge after the first leaves and have the plants distinctive leaf shape. It’s important to transplant the seedlings to prevent crowding and provide nutrients for continued growth. A commercial mix of potting soil and organic matter and is a worthy option. Poke a hole into the soil where the seedling is to be planted. Seedlings should be planted at the same depth as they were growing in the original container. Carefully dig up the small seedlings. Let seedlings fall apart and pick out individual plants. Carefully handle seedlings by their leaves to avoid tearing roots or crushing their stems. Continue watering and fertilizing.
The hardening process will prepare your plant to be outside. Begin this process two weeks before you plant in the garden. Start by moving the plants outdoors during daylight to a shady location and gradually move plants into the sunlight for short periods each day increasing the length of exposure. Reduce your watering frequency but don’t allow the plants to wilt. Once your plants are hardened you are ready to move them to the garden. Water your plants well before planting them in the garden and try to plant them on a cloudy day.
For more information on seed starting call 252-237-0113 and speak to a Wilson County Extension Master Gardeners Monday, Wednesday, or Friday from 1-3 p.m. or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also plant to attend the Seed Starting Workshop on Monday, October 17, 2016 at 3 p.m. at the Wilson Agricultural Center at 1806 SW Goldsboro Street.