Sprouting ideas: Starting seeds indoors
Before you go out and buy your garden seed over the 'net, let me alert you to the most important thing to know before hitting that "Buy it Now" button. Because freshness of seeds is of utmost importance, be sure you know what you are buying before you have to claim black thumbs this spring. The most significant thing you can do before buying seeds is to check for seed freshness. Seeds should be no more than nine months old when purchased. You can have failures because of left over unsold and, therefore, old seeds. With that caveat out of the way, here are some pointers on starting new seeds indoors.
Many seed varieties require a constant germination temperature. So, you definitely should consider investing in a waterproof soil-heating mat. These mats usually are pre-set to keep soil at 72 degrees, but many have adjustable thermostats. They are re-usable for many years and well worth the investment toward increasing your seedlings' germination. You will have years of increased garden success with these handy seed warming mats. Also, they really are beneficial to the fancy herbs many of you are growing indoors.
Fill your germination pots or flats within 1/4 inch of their rims. Moisten the soil by placing it in a pan of room- temperature water until it is thoroughly wet. Allow the excess water to drain from the pots, then tamp them lightly to pack the medium and to remove any air pockets. You are now ready to sow some seeds.
It is important to know if the seeds you plan to sow need any special treatment before planting. Some may need soaking for a few hours, some may require days in the freezer, others will need to be scarified (nicking the seed hull). It is a good idea to do your sowing in stages so that in the event of one "crop disaster" you have a built-in second chance for a successful production.
Depending on the size of the seed you may have to create a seed "trench" or, using a dibble stick, punch a row of small holes in the planting medium. The rows should be at least an inch apart. The planting depth is critical, usually one or two times the diameter of the seed. Neither very fine seeds nor seeds that require light for germination should be covered at all with the planting soil.
Now you need to create a miniature greenhouse environment for the pots or flats. There are ready-made seedling greenhouses that really simplify this stage of your planting. The shelter from a little "greenhouse" will almost eliminate the necessity of watering again before the seeds germinate. But be sure to keep an eye on the soil's moisture.
Place your flats not in direct sun but in an area where they will get good light and maintain the desired temperatures as closely as possible. Germination can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of months, depending on what you are growing, so you'll have to call on varying degrees of patience. Once the sprouts have poked through the soil, your seedlings will be quite tender and fragile, and will not tolerate a radical change. To preclude disaster, remove the "green housing" and gradually move the flat into brighter lights or sun.
At this stage, the seedlings have underdeveloped root systems, so watering is critical. The potting medium must remain moist, but never soggy. Check it daily. Very wet soil will deprive the roots of life-giving oxygen and drown your new plants. Bottom watering is best at this point because spraying can dislodge the plants and water on the leaves may lead to fungus attacks. Temperatures should be kept at about 70-75 degrees.
Up until this time the seedlings have been receiving nourishment from the seeds. Once the second set of leaves develops you can begin to feed your new seedlings. At this point fertilizing should be done from the bottom using a very dilute 1/4-strength mix of soluble All Purpose Plant Food' once a week. When the plants have grown to about 3 inches, you can begin to water and feed the plants from above their soil level.
Gardening Class - As usual, this morning's free gardening class starts at 9:30. It is about "Happy Healthy Houseplants the Easy Way." Join us for lots of useful information while we all have a good time.
Although the Jan. 19 class at the garden center will be about starting seeds, it will be unique from our usual get-togethers. The first 10 students to sign up with $35 in hand will get front row seats and will take home the products mentioned in the class. Garden suppliers really have come through for this class with lots of extra goodies for those lucky participants. There is no charge to listen in for free from the back rows, to participate in this hands-on class, and to take home some of the handouts. Although 10 folks will be "favored," we look forward to our usual full house of interested gardeners.
Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.
Ken Lain can be found at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, or contact him through www.wattersonline.com.