Gardening lovers are anxiously awaiting spring this time of year. So how can you get a jump start on the growing season? Start your seeds indoors.
Besides being an inexpensive and practical of way of starting your plants, you can grow some unusual and heirloom varieties of plants and vegetables you rarely see at local nurseries.
Which seeds should you grow indoors? The first secret is to choose the right seed for the right place. Easy seeds to start are warm season annuals such as marigolds, sunflowers, zinnias, lettuces, tomatoes, chives and basil. More difficult ones are peppers, parsley, eggplant and petunias. Generally perennials are harder to start by seed unless grown in a greenhouse environment.
Here are a few simple steps to get started.
• Make sure the seeds have a proper home. When planting seeds, don’t use plain old garden soil. Make sure you have a good seed-starting mix with plenty of peat and perlite mixed in. You can also purchase premixed bags of seed starting soil.
There are also subdivided trays with peat pellets in them, so all you have to do is put the seeds in the dividers. Plant two or three seeds in each cell. Or make your own planting pots with milk jugs cut in half. Punch holes in the bottom of the jugs for water drainage and plant your seeds in them. Jugs can hold up to 10 seedlings.
Whatever container you choose to plant in, always make sure they have adequate water drainage and that you have a drainage flat underneath your trays or jugs.
• Read the seed packets before you plant. This is your instruction manual. Most seeds that are started indoors are planted anywhere between four to eight weeks before the final frost. April 15 is usually considered safe for outside planting in Northeast Georgia.
Pay attention to the information on the packets that provide you with sun requirements, spacing and other plant needs once they are moved outside.
Check the expiration date on the packets. Old seeds are less likely to germinate.
• Lighting needs are important for starting seeds indoors. Young plants need a good amount of sunlight. If you have a warm room with temps between 65 F and 72 F, and you have a lot of windows, then you are off to a good start. If not, hang an inexpensive fluorescent light about 4 to 6 inches above the seed trays and place them on a table or shelf. Hang the light with a chain link where you can adjust the light as the seedlings start to grow taller.
If you do not have a warm room, you can also purchase heating mats to put under the trays. Many garden magazines advertise these products.
• Give the seeds and seedlings plenty of water. Moisture is vital to the success of starting seeds. Water the plug trays or jugs with a pitcher that has narrow spout so the water can be applied directly to the peat.
Once the seeds have sprouted, watering around the base of the seedling is important. Young leaves can rot if too much water touches them. The plug trays are great for easy drainage and the trays act as a reservoir against overwatering.
• When the seeds have sprouted, give the little ones lots of room. Overcrowding results in fragile stems and sparse leaves.
When the plants get an inch tall, thin out the cell and snip the seedlings at the soil line, leaving one seedling intact. It is crucial to thin them out even though you are excited that all of the plants are coming up. Tough love!
• As the germination period comes to an end and this should be about a week before our last frost date, start acclimating the plants to the outside world bit by bit. This is called “hardening off.” Place the tray outdoors for a few hours every afternoon, bringing them back indoors at night. Keep repeating this process lengthening the time that the seedlings are outside until the frost date has passed.
• The plants are ready to be transplanted. Refer back to the seed packet for need requirements of the plant. Make sure you plant the seedlings to the depth and distance between them that they need.
Do not pull out the plant from its top; instead, gently nudge the bottom of the tray and shake loose. Do not bury the whole stem once planted.
Your efforts have paid off. Now is the time to settle back and let nature takes its course. You will enjoy watching all of the seedlings starting to grow in your landscape.