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Starting from Seed!

Over the last year there has been increased interest in gardening, especially vegetable gardening, pollinator gardening and seed starting. This year, the interest is continuing with many of us deciding to start our plants from seed. So how can you improve success with your seed sowing and young fledgling seedlings leading up to Spring 2021? Read on for some tips and insights.

When do I start my seeds?
The proper time to sow seeds for seedlings depends on when the plant may safely be moved outdoors. For some plants like lettuce, 2-3 weeks is plenty of time. For other plants like tomatoes, it takes about 8 weeks. Check the back of the seed package for that information then count back from the projected last frost date (usually around Mother’s Day in West Michigan). For example, if you are sowing tomatoes, 8 weeks prior to Mother’s Day is mid-March so you will want to start your tomatoes inside between March 15 and March 30.

Tip: Don’t sow your seeds too early then try to hold the seedlings back under poor light or problem temperatures. That can cause tall, spindly plants that are too weak for the garden.

What does “hardening off” mean?
That is when your move your seedlings outside for short periods of time then bringing them back inside until they are ready to be planted outdoors for good. Protect them from strong winds and direct sun exposure. (Bright sun is OK; direct sun can burn the tender leaves.) Depending on the plant, it typically takes about 7 to 10 days.

Tip: When starting seeds indoors, your seedlings will need a lot of supplemental light to grow once leaves start to develop. Grow lights are a great option.

Can’t I just plant my seeds right in the ground?
In some cases you can, depending on the seed. Some seeds germinate and grow so quickly, there’s no reason to start them early indoors. Examples would be corn and beans as well as curcurbits (squash, cucumbers and melons). The key is the outdoor soil temperature…the soil temperature (not the air temperature) must be above 60 degrees. Just follow the planting directions on the seed packages.

Tip: If you don’t want to transplant from a seed flat into a pot, you can start your seeds in peat pots (formed from peat moss). Peat pots can be planted directly in the garden once your seedlings are ready. 

How many seeds should I use?
Sow seeds thinly and uniformly in rows by gently tapping the packet of seeds as it is moved along the row. Lightly cover the seeds and press down gently to ensure good contact between the seed and the seed starting soil. A plastic cover or even plastic wrap placed loosely over the flat can be used for warmth and humidity after you have sown the seeds. Tent and vent once seeds germinate and remove once most of the seedlings are pushing against the plastic.

Tip: Always use a good quality seed starting media. These media are soilless and light-weight, which helps provide better drainage thus avoiding root rot and helps prevent insect issues and damping off.


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