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8 tips for beginner seed starters!

It's taken me years to get good at some of the nuances of seed starting. I started growing my own plants from seed back before I even had a garden of my own. I was in a small apartment that got very little sun. So, I grew coleus from seed. Coleus are a great shade lover that really brightened up my second story balcony. From that point on, I was hooked. Each year since then I keep trying new things and expanding my list of seeds to try.

I finally had success with lisianthus! That is like the Olympics of seed starting. They are so tiny and grow so slow. Most flower farmers order in plugs and don't even bother growing them from seed. I enjoy the challenge and it gives me something to grow in January.

Today I want to cover the basics of seed starting with you so you can crush your gardening goals this spring!

Know what you're growing! Spend a little time and learn about the plant you're trying to start from seed. Key things to look for:

  • Starting inside and transplanting outside or direct seeding into the garden?

  • When to start the seed?

  • How deep do you cover it or do you leave it on the surface?

  • Temperature for best germination?

  • Does it prefer light to germinate or darkness?

  • Do the seeds require any pretreatment (like a cold treatment in the fridge or soaking in water)?

Don't start your seeds to early. I know it's tempting to get them going as early as possible. If you're just starting out though, I would suggest starting them when the seed package indicates. If you want to push the envelope, you can start them early here are a couple points to keep in mind:

  • Bump them up into a larger growing container once they reach their "plant out" date. If you don't, they could become root bound and stunted.

  • Keep fertilizing them. They will need continual feeding to keep them growing in cell trays.

  • Try to get them in a safe covered space outdoors to get sun. If you can't do this, keep them under grow lights or in a south facing window.

  • Start some earlier than you should and start some at the suggested time. Splitting your crops will give you a backup if your experiment doesn't go as planned.

Use sterile seed starting mix. This will help reduce issues with disease and insects. When you're just starting out, the less issues the better.

Keep them moist for successful germination. When you buy seed starting trays they normally come with a leak proof bottom tray, the plug tray (72 count is common), and a clear humidity dome. Put that dome on and keep it on until the seeds have germinated. If the seed dries out during the germination process it will pinch off the growing seedling and it will die.

Water from below. I've killed many seedlings with a stream of water before this lesson finally sunk in. Place your plug tray (or other container) in a leak proof tray or dish. Fill the tray or dish with water and let the plug tray wick the water up.

Feed the growing babies. Once your seedlings have their first set of true leaves start fertilizing with fertilizer mixed to half its normal concentration. (Seeds germinate and the first set of leaves you see are the cotyledon leaves, the next set that come on are the true leaves.) You can work up to full strength fertilizer as your seedlings grow.

Provide enough light. Seedlings need a lot of light to grow. I normally leave my grow lights on for 16 hours and then give them 8 hours of darkness. A south facing window can work but be sure to rotate them often. If they are leaning heavily to the window it means they aren't getting enough light.

Harden your seedlings off before planting them outside. I know it's so tempting to skip or rush through this step. It's so important to transition your seedlings from the controlled environment they've been growing in to the unpredictable and sometimes harsh world outside.

Starting your own plants from seed opens up thousands of varieties you might never see for sale as plant starts. It is a fun process that the more you do the better you get. Before you know it, seed starting is going to be a season of its own every year. My seed starting has expanded beginning in January and extending all the way into May. I never cease to be amazed at watching little seeds turn into glorious plants!

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