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Starting plants from seeds is the least expensive way to grow plants, but there are a few instructions that need to be followed to have success. Seed starting can bring a lot of satisfaction and add a new dimension to your gardening experience. To gain experience you should start with seeds that are easily started such as tomatoes, peppers and other large seeds. Then, as you get more experienced, you can graduate into smaller and harder to start seeds such as petunias, impatiens and other small seeded plants. Most seed packets contain starting information, but there are also many books and websites that are valuable sources of information.
There are only two conditions that are needed to get most seeds started. Those conditions are moisture and warm soil. In the case of a few flower seeds, light may be necessary. As we go through the steps, a few other principals will be explained to get more uniform and faster germination.
1). Keep a garden journal. Get a notebook to write down what conditions you used to germinate the seed. You might also wish to note what seeds you're starting along with the varieties used, and what date you start the seed. Then as they grow, you can record the date they were planted and whether they have to be started earlier if they are too small or later if they were too tall and leggy. Also what amount of fertilizing was done, if any. Conditions such as how warm the area is, along with light vary widely from place to place, so don’t worry if your notes are different from those of your neighbors’.
2) Use Seed Starting Soil – The soil we recommend is Jiffy Mix. It is a sterile soil which is very important. The mix is made from Peat Moss, Vermiculite, and a small amount of fertilizer. It contains no “Garden Soil”. Garden soil contains spores of the “damping off” fungus. These fungi cause the seedlings to rot off right near the ground. They are referred to as water molds. They like the same conditions that seeds need to germinate, so if you use any garden soil you are starting with two strikes against you. Jiffy Mix also has the right consistency for transplanting with less transplanting shock.
1. Wet the soil in a clean pail or container. It should be wet like a sponge that has been slightly rung out. It sometimes is hard to wet the first time, but once wet, it moistens readily.
2. Place a layer of moist Jiffy Mix in a new or clean container. It is important that the container is clean as damping off fungus can also be in “dirty” containers. Lightly pack the medium in the container so the seed has a good firm seed bed.
3. Make small rows about 2” apart in the Jiffy Mix and plant the seed in rows. Only one type of vegetable or flower seeds should be planted in each flat. If you plant multiple types in the same flat, they may germinate at different rates and problems will occur. After the seed is sown, cover the seeds with a small amount of Jiffy Mix and place the flat in a plastic bag or cover the flat with a clear plastic dome . By sealing the container in plastic or covering with a dome, no water needs to be added to germinate the seed until the seeds have started.
4. Place the container on a heat mat. The heat will increase the speed and uniformity of germination. Placing the seed germination flats in a room at room temperature will not keep the soil temperature high enough for proper germination.
5. Once the seedlings emerge, the container should be removed from the plastic bag or the plastic dome should be removed and placed in a sunny window or under grow lights . Watering is very important as you do not want to overwater. Watering should only be done when the medium feels dry and not on a daily basis. If you overwater, damping off can still be a problem. A little fertilizer can be done by putting soluble plant food in the water.
6. Grow the seedling on until the new plants are easily transplanted. This is usually when the seedlings have two or three sets of true leaves. Use a pencil or dibble to loosen the seedling and remove the plant with as many roots as possible. The seedlings can then be planted into a potting soil of one-third peat or compost, one-third garden soil and one-third sand. If you purchase potting soil, a peat based soil is best. The container can be plastic pots , peat pots or cell packs that can be purchased. The seedlings should be grown in a cool, sunny window or under grow light. Growing the plants at too high a temperature can result in tall “leggy” plants.
7. About a week to 10 days before planting your seedlings outside, it’s time to harden them off to keep transplanting shock at a minimum. Hardening off can be done by putting them outside for a couple hours to start the process. Then increase the amount of time until they are out all day and take into the garage at night, especially if the temperature is going too low.
8. After hardening the plants, you are ready to plant. When planting annuals, be sure to pinch the seedlings back to encourage more branching . If you are planting vegetables and the plants are too tall, place the roots and the stem horizontally in the ground and turn the last two or three inches vertical. This will encourage a stronger plant. Water and fertilize the newly planted seedlings to get them off to a good start.
9. Continue to water and fertilize the plants throughout the growing season to increase the growth and productivity of the plants.