Seed Starting - Knowledgebase Question

Owings Mills, Ma
Question by svgolder
March 3, 2010
Hi, My name is Sucarri and I this is my first time joining a garden club and my question is this is my first time starting plants from seeding and right now in march there is not much sun what should I do? and do I have to invest in compostible bins? or invest in growing lights?


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Answer from NGA
March 3, 2010

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Here are the basics of what you'll need to get your garden seeds started:
Containers - Either purchased pots or flats or containers you've saved, like egg cartons and yogurt cups. Used pots should be cleaned and disinfected by soaking in 1 part bleach to 10 parts water.

Potting Mix - Seeds do best in a soilless mix where there are fewer inherent problems than with garden soil.

Plastic Bags or Covers - These will trap warmth and humidity where the seeds need it

Light Source - If you don't have a bright window, you will need some kind of fluorescent or high density plant lights. I use the hooded shop lights from Home Depot. They have two fluorescent bulbs, a hood, and two chains. Hang the lights just an inch or two above the tops of the seedlings and move the lights up as the plants grow.

Here's how:
Moisten the potting soil and fill your trays or containers. Sow your seeds as instructed on the seed packet. Be sure to plant them at the right depth. If you plant them too deeply the seedlings will die before they get to the top of the potting soil.

After planting your seeds, loosely cover the trays or pots with plastic wrap. This will help hold in both heat and moisture. You can place the whole container into a plastic bag or simply lay a sheet of plastic over the container. If you have special seed starting trays with plastic covers, use those.

Move your containers to a warm, draft free spot and check it daily. Most seeds germinate best when the temperature is between 65 and 70 degrees F. The top of a refrigerator is an idea spot or you could consider purchasing heating mats specially made for germinating seed.

Heating mats go under the potting containers and heat the soil from below. You will usually need to water more frequently when using heating mats. Caution: Only use heating mats certified for seed starting use.

In general, seeds will not need light until they emerge. They will need air circulation under the plastic or you will be encouraging mold.

Remove the plastic as soon as you see a seedling emerging and move the trays or containers into indirect light. Be sure the potting mix stays moist, but not wet.
Your seedlings will need between 12-18 hours of light each day. This may seem extreme, but artificial light and even the low rays of the winter sun are not as intense as full summer sun. The best way to insure regular long doses of light is to attach your florescent or high intensity plant lights to an automatic timer.

As the seedling grows, the cotyledons will wither and what are called the first "true" leaves will form. This is when your seedling begins actively photosynthesizing. Since it is growing in a soilless mix, you will need to give it some supplemental feeding at this point. Use a balanced fertilizer or one high in nitrogen and potassium, to encourage good roots and healthy growth.
Potting up: Seedlings can remain in their original containers until you are ready to plant them in their permanent spots. However it is common to move the seedlings into a larger pot once several sets of leaves have formed and the seedling is a couple of inches tall. This is called "potting up" and it allows the roots more room to develop. Three to four inch pots are good sizes to pot up to, allowing plenty of room for root growth.

Best wishes with your seed starting project.

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