It may still be winter out there, but for those that plan on growing their own seedlings, planting season is looming in closer every day. Seedlings take a bit of extra planning, technique, and—most of all—care. But those gardeners who get their seeds started early will have a jump start when it comes to planting after the soil thaws for spring.
Starting early gives seedlings a chance to grow strong before being transplanted outdoors and becoming subject to the weather’s whims. Seedlings are fragile and particularly susceptible to disease, which means that they need a warm, clean environment to grow strong. They need access to sunlight as well as electricity.
Seeds should be planted in a clean, nutrient rich base such as a peat-based growing media, coir, or shredded coconut fibers. The key is to keep soil well-drained and fluffy instead of heavy and overly-damp. In order to create a moist environment for seed germination, consider using mini tabletop greenhouses or clear plastic containers to create a greenhouse effect. Just make sure it’s sanitized and has proper drainage holes.
Seeds should remain covered until they begin to sprout. At that point, the “greenhouse” lids can be removed to allow for airflow and disease prevention. To fertilize seedlings, use a soluble fertilizer mixed with warm water on every other watering. Make sure any excess water is promptly drained.
Seedlings need 16-18 hours of good light every day to grow strong. Natural sunlight provides some, but not enough, of this light. This is where the access to electricity comes in. Use an adjustable light and place it a few inches above the top of seedlings, raising it as they grow bigger. A simple fluorescent lamp will do just fine.
Seedlings should be transplanted toward the middle or end of March—whenever the soil thaws and is consistently warm enough. Seedlings need about a month to sprout and grow, which means the time for planning is now. What will you grow this spring?