The Q&A Archives: Flower Seedlings are Small

Question: I started several kinds of annuals and perennials this year for the first time from seed. After the time they were to be moved outdoors (mostly 6 to 8 weeks), they were still so tiny I didn't feel comfortable planting them out. How far in advance do nurseries start seeds, and is there a way to start them in the fall and care for them until spring so they get bigger? I'm in zone 6.

Answer: When you start seeds for the first time, it can be kind of startling how small these babies look. The typical head-start for flowers is 6 to 8 weeks; 12 weeks would be about the maximum. If you try to keep them longer than that indoors, they may become potbound or get leggy (though some flower seedlings, such as petunias, benefit from pinching back that helps them form dense, bushy growth). Do you have your seedling flats under fluorescent lights? Light and judicious fertilization should help them become sturdy and ready for transplant within the recommended time period. They may look small, but once they have become acclimated to the garden, they will grow quickly.

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