Ah. Seed starting. A glorious time between winter and spring where you get to play in the dirt, and nurture tiny seedlings. A brief glimpse of spring while the world still dark and cold. Seed starting is simple in concept, but it's easy to make tiny mistakes that make a big difference. I've made all of these mistakes before, at least once, and had entire years where nothing really worked out. I'm a firm believer that it isn't really a mistake if you've learned something from the experience. Here are 5 tips for seed starting.
Light is obviously essential for helping seedlings survive and thrive. Contrary to what you may have read, they do not need a fancy bulb. I've always just used a fluorescent shop light. I start the light very close to the seedlings, and as they grow I raise it higher. If you only use light from a window, or have your light too far away, you will get tall, spindly plants. These are called leggy, and although it's not a death sentence, it's better if your plants are a bit shorter and stockier. Although light is good, too much light is also bad. Although it can be easy to just leave the light on your plants all the time, don't!! They can get too much light. A general rule is about 18 hours on, 6 hours off. Hate turning the lights on and off? Get a timer, it's worth the investment!
This is one I had a hard time grasping. Plants need water, but they can also have too much water. When you first plant your seeds, you will want to water them thoroughly (be gentle when watering from above as to not displace the seeds). Once you water them the first time, DO NOT WATER DAILY! Let your soil almost completely dry out. Once mostly dry, water well. Once your seedlings have sprouted, watch them for signs of floppiness or wilting. If you see them start to droop, don't panic! Resist touching them much, and water. If you've made the mistake and constantly watered, never letting the soil dry, you can deal with mold or fungus gnats. If you notice any small gnats flying around your seedlings, that's most likely what they are. These are easily treated using diatomaceous earth. Give your seedlings a gentle sprinkling, let your soil dry, and you'll be back in business.
If you've planted your seeds, watered them, and waited patiently without any signs of sprouts, you may need some heat. Seeds, especially tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, herbs, all like warm soil. If they are in a cooler place, they may need an extra push to get going. You can look on pinterest for diy heat mats, which can work well, you can also find a seedling heat mat on amazon for less than 14 dollars. I got two for Christmas, and as someone who doesn't like to spend money if I don't have to, they were absolutely worth it. My seeds sprouted and grew better when I used the heat mat. If heat isn't the issue, it may be old seeds, which just don't have the umph needed to grow. If your seeds are both in warm soil, not old, then they could be planted a bit too deep. In that case they may still sprout, it just may take longer for them to be visible.
It's always a great idea to rotate your seedling trays. Seedlings are smart little buggers, and they will stretch and grow towards the light source. This can cause seedlings to get floppy, or leggy. An easy fix is just to rotate your trays to ensure even growing. It's amazing to see them all growing one way, flip them, and them be growing the opposite direction by the evening.
This is one of my least favorite things to do. Most likely when you planted your seeds, you did more than one. This means you have 2 or 3 plants all growing together. Once your seedlings are up, stable, and thriving, you need to thin them. It's hard to pluck out a perfectly good plant, but it's for the best. Doing this is easy, just grab the extra seedling and gently pull. The root systems are still quite small, so they should pull out easily. It's best to do this now, and not get too attached to those extra plants. As they grow, their root systems will intertwine and they will start running out of space. Trying to separate two plants that have spent a life growing together usually doesn't end well.
I hope these tips come in handy as you start seeds this year. There is nothing more fun that to watch seedlings sprout and grow. I love stopping by and admiring them while the winter weather rages on outside!
Question of the day: Have you ever started seeds before?