Starting Seeds Indoors
Sage & Snow Garden Club April newsletter
April 4, 2012
Flora is watching the ducks, geese, and cranes and knows that spring is here. However, she also knows that if you plant in the ground now, you are likely to have to replant in a few months. The best strategy is to work on your houseplants now and start outside plants indoors for planting around June 1. Here are some ideas to help you with indoor seed starting.
I love to garden, but wonder if what I know can be transferred to my Sublette County garden? Where can I meet other gardeners and ask questions?
Signed, Will It Grow
The Garden Club meets the third Tuesday in the month, so the next meeting will be April 17. We get together at the Sublette County Weed & Pest Office at 12 South Bench Road, Pinedale (307-367-4728). Social time starts at 4:30 P.M., followed by a short business session at 5:00 P.M. To find out more about the Garden Club, go to our website at www.sageandsnow.org.
How exactly do I "start" seeds indoors?
Signed, Reddi To Go
You need to be able to count backwards. We are usually able to plant in the ground around June 1, so count backwards from that date. Look on the back of the seed packet for information on germination time and days till maturity. If you start seeds too early and keep them in the house too long, they get spindly. There are several plants that you can plant directly in the ground if you wait until June, so you may not have to start them in the house.
Use various containers, such as foam or plastic cups with drainage holes; 12 to 16 ounce cups are useful for deep root space and also reduce the need to transplant until later. Sanitize the containers by soaking in hot water and bleach, then rinse and air dry. If you use flats for many seeds, transplant to small cups when the second set of leaves are out and be careful not to pinch the stem. Use clean potting soil with added vermiculite to insure seed-to-soil contact and root development. Do not use regular topsoil as this is too heavy to allow good germination in the house.
Pre-water the planting medium before planting and let the soil absorb all it can - make sure the containers have good drainage. Use a cat litter box or plastic tray to hold your pots. Use a lid for increased humidity over seedlings to start, but be sure to let the top of the soil dry out to avoid problems with damping-off disease. Water carefully from the bottom or use a turkey baster when watering from the top.
Read the seed packet and plant to the correct depth. Presoaked peas and beans need to be at least 1 inch deep or the roots push the seedling out of the ground. Other seeds may be 1/8 to ¼ inch deep since they need to be on the surface near light. Note that some seeds, like poppies and pansies, need a cold weather treatment before they will germinate, so go ahead and plant them outdoors now.
When seedlings appear, uncover and move to a bright spot. Water with a dilute fertilizer when seedlings get their first true leaves (usually the second set). As the seedlings grow, thin out the weaker ones and transplant the others into larger containers using little forks, spoons or toothpicks. Try not to transplant too many times, since each time stresses the little plant.
I get more seeds in a packet than I can plant in one year. Can I use the remaining seeds next year?
Signed, Sow Challenged
It really depends on the type of seed and how it has been stored. It is always best to store extra seeds in a dry, dark location that maintains approximately 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Basic guidelines by seed type are: Onions = 1 year; Corn and peppers = 2 years; Beans carrots, and peas = 3 years; Beets, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, and watermelons = 4 years; Broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, lettuce, cantaloupes, radishes, and spinach = 5 years.
How do I harden off my plants for transplanting in the garden?
Signed, Hardly There
To harden off plants before transplanting them in the garden, gradually expose them to outdoor light for about one hour the first day, increasing the amount of time each day until they have been completely outside for a week. Then, transplant the plants in the ground. Protect sensitive plants from frost by covering them until the threat of frost has passed.
How do I prepare my transplants for the windy conditions in my garden?
Signed, Windy Wendy
When growing seedlings indoors, each day gently brush your hand over the plants to simulate wind. The roots and stems will grow stronger in preparation for planting outdoors.
Last year my seeds sprouted unevenly, but withered and died or healthy looking seedlings suddenly fell over. What went wrong?
Signed, Brown Thumb
Not that the name matters, but you may have had damping-off disease. There are many causes. Here are some preventative measures you can take this year. It would definitely be worth your time to get more information on the subject.
Soaking the seeds for 15 minutes in a bleach soak (one teaspoon per quart of water) prior to sowing.
Use sterile, well drained soil mediums. Try to maintain a soil mix pH at the low end of the average scale, i.e. 6.4 pH is less susceptible to root rot than a pH of 7.5. Commercially prepared germination mixes usually have a pH around 5.5. As you water the seed pots and your seedlings with tap water (which in many places is alkaline), the pH in your pots gradually increases as does the susceptibility to damping-off diseases. Know the pH of your tap water, and condition it if necessary to maintain a lower pH while the plants are still in the germination room. I prefer the use of vinegar at the rate of one tablespoon per gallon of water.
Use plant containers with drainage holes, water from the bottom only, and avoid excess watering. Do not allow pots to stand in water as excess water cannot drain and the roots will be starved for oxygen bringing all growth to a halt.
Avoid overcrowding and overfeeding of plants. It is important to maintain constant levels of growth through proper lighting and complete control of the growing environment.
Seeds must not be covered more than 4 times the thickness of the seed. Sow all your seeds on the surface of the media, and then cover the seeds to the necessary depth with a material which is less likely to harbor fungi than the media itself. Use one or more of the following seed toppings instead of soil mix: milled sphagnum moss; chick grit; course sand or fine aquarium gravel or composted hardwood bark (steamed).
Provide constant air movement, but not directly aimed at the plants. This helps excess moisture to wick from the seedlings. If you do everything else right but do not provide plenty of air movement, you will still get damping-off.