The Q&A Archives: Starting

Question: I enjoy the heck out of growing seeds, however, I seem to have mixed results...mainly on the down side. I'm trying your cutting garden, using Jiffy Pots and other leftover planters. 1. How can I get stronger stems? The seedlings grow great inside, however get tall and fall over. 2. Should they stay constantly wet. I water twice day to keep the soil moist and don't want to over water. 3. I used some Jiffy pellets and that really seemed to work with the seeds? I need to get these plants healthy enough to go outside...some of the zinnias look a little brown, for the most part all of them look stringy. Thanks for your help. Let me know if there is a book or if your site has a specific area on seedlings and procedures...I will be putting a green-house for next year. Thank you. Tom Radcliff Nashville TN

Answer: Here's how to start and grow healthy seedlings: Use a good seed-starting mix; moisten well before using. Sow the seeds in pots (I avoid the jiffy pots..they tend to dry out too much) or flats. Water from the bottom by setting the pots in a shallow panand letting the soil absorb the water. Cover with plastic wrap to reduce moisture loss. Place in a warm (65-70 degrees) place. When germination is evident, remove the plastic. Your seedlings are spindly because they haven't received enough light. Starting them under fluorescent lights will help. Keep the lights just an inch or two from the tops of the seedlings. However, eventually they will need exposure to sunlight since the amount of light fluorescent lights provide can never equal the amountof light provided by the sun. Don't water the flats in which you have sown your seeds until after you have removed the plastic...and then only when the soil has begun to dry out. You can use a spray bottle to gently mist the soil surface. Sounds like you are overwatering and drowning the roots. Roots need oxygen as well as water! A good rule to follow...stick your finger up to the first knuckle in the soil. If it is wet...don't water: if it is dry..water! Transplant to individual pots when the seedlings are large enough to handle (this can be quite small). This is necessary if you have started seeds in a flat and they are crowding each other. Give them a good source of light. Fertilize with a weak solution of liquid fertilizer (1/4 tsp./gallon of water) at every watering. If you are interested in learning more about starting plants from seed, read Eileen Powells book "From Seed to Bloom" as well as Nancy Bubels "Seed Starters Handbook." Great books!

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