Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern Coasts
December, 2003
Regional Report

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The warmth of a heat mat can boost germination of most seeds.

Seed Secrets

There's no time like the present to get your gear ready to start seeds. Catalogs are plentiful, time's available, and seeding season's just a month away.

What to Grow
In general, start seeds six weeks before you want to put them out in the garden. For cool-season annuals like nasturtiums and sweet peas, lettuces, greens, and perennials like coneflowers (echinacea) and black-eyed Susans (rudbeckia), that's January 1 (for planting in February). To set out tomatoes as early as possible, start them from seed before Feb. 1. Peppers follow a week or two later, along with late spring annuals and summer perennials.

What You Need
Start with a table or wide shelf, a heating mat (not a heating pad because it's not water-resistant), and a couple of flats full of sterile seed-starting mix with trays under them to keep things neat and dry. Set up a simple two-bulb flourescent light fixture and use one cool white and one daylight bulb to provide the complete spectrum. Water the soil once, let it drain away, then plant seeds.

Tips of the Trade
Label each row or cell in the flat with the name of the seed and date planted. Use a permanent marker; you'll be glad later that you did. Keep the lights 4 inches above the trays and turned on for 10 hours each day until they sprout, then gradually move the lights up so they are always 4 inches above the tops of the plants.

Water from the bottom whenever possible to encourage deeper roots, add fertilizer weekly, and use a hand mister to add humidity to the trays daily. Bottom heat is often the difference between good seed sprouting and a spotty flat. Heating cables work, but are more fragile than solid heating mats made for starting seeds. If mildew forms on the soil surface, decrease watering and drench the flats with fungicide.

Take the seed flats outside for a week or so to harden them off before transplanting into the garden.

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