2011-02-03 / Features

Seed Starting Indoors

The Potting Shed
By Carole McCray

McCray McCray Get a jump on the growing season and start vegetable and flower seeds indoors. It can be as simple as filling a container with moistened soil less medium, sowing your seeds, labeling them and putting the container into a loosely closed plastic bag. Once the seeds have sprouted, remove the bag and set seedlings outdoors two weeks after the last spring frost. That’s it simply put; however, the following are helpful hints for success with sowing seeds indoors.

Getting started

A visit to your local garden center is a good starting point to look at seed packets. Seeds and soil can also be purchased at your local building supply store and from mail order catalogs.

Sowing seeds

Good containers for sowing seeds are plastic trays or flats of various sizes, some with covers. When ready to transplant seedlings, you can use small peat pots, fiber pots, plastic pots or trays divided into cells.

Begin by filling the tray or flat with dampened soilless mix. Sow the seed in rows and place more than one seed in each hole in the container. This will give you a better chance of having a lot of seeds survive because often there will be weak seedlings not suitable for surviving the move to the garden. Cover seeds with planting mix about three times their thickness and plant down firm. Water gently. Label seeds as you plant; a magic marker pen and popsicle sticks can be used for marking.

Growing seeds should be placed out of reach if you have small children or curious pets that innocently might disturb the seeds.

Cover the seed container with a plastic wrap or the lid of the container. Place the container in a warm place where the temperature is between 65 and 70 degrees. Check to see the containers are not drying out. This should be done once or twice daily. Watering should be done lightly when necessary by misting with warm water as necessary.

Seeds will germinate best if you can maintain a soil temperature of 80 to 85 degrees. To achieve this, use heat tape or heating mats available through catalogues and sometimes hardware or garden centers will have them.

When seedlings emerge

Once seedlings appear and the first leaves are opening, it is time to remove the heat and give them more light. A sunny window is not adequate; seedlings need about 16 hours of bright light each day. Many gardeners use 40-watt fluorescent bulbs placed several inches above the plants and raised as the plants grow. Timers for the lights will work, or simply when you wake up turn the lights on and when going to bed, turn the lights off.

When seeds have become seedlings, they will need feeding. Mist as a means of watering and add weak general-purpose water-soluble fertilizer mixed ΒΌ strength.

You will notice that some of the seedlings are not as strong as some of the other seedlings in the containers. To remove the weakest seedlings, do so carefully not to injure the strongest seedlings. Remove seedlings by lifting by the root ball, using a spoon or plant tag for support if needed.

Move seedlings to larger pots once seedlings become bigger. Peat pots, styrofoam or plastic containers are good containers as they can be set directly in the ground after the last frost.

Ready for the move

Two weeks before planting outdoors, you can move the plants outdoors for two or three hours where they will be planted. This introduction to the outdoors is called “hardening them off.” Placed in the shade during the warmth of the afternoon sun and protected from the wind is a good spot. Each day expose the plants gradually to more direct sunshine carefully as not to scorch their leaves. An easy method to harden plants off is to place them in a cold frame.

Once the danger of the last frost has passed, the plants are ready for transplanting to the garden. Choose a cloudy day or late afternoon. If transplanting has been done in pat pots or other containers made of organic material, trim the collars of these pots. The collars when exposed to drying air will wick water away from the root zone and may inhibit root growth. Also, cut or tear holes in the bottoms of these pots to encourage root growth.

Leftover seeds can be saved for the next year; store seed packets in a cool place till next season, and even the refrigerator is a good storage place.

Experience the growing season first hand and start your own seeds.

Carole McCray lives, writes and gardens in the scenic Laurel Highlands east of Ligonier, Pa. She is an award-winning writer; her most recent award was the Garden Writers Association Award for her article on Native Seeds which appeared in The Christian Science Monitor newspaper. She can be reached at mountain26@verizon.net

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