There are few endeavors more rewarding than growing your own food and flowers from scratch. While most people start their plants from seed in the spring, sowing them directly into the ground, or from seedlings purchased at a nursery, this is often not possible for many gardeners.
If you wish to produce all of your plants yourself, or if you live in a colder climate that experiences late or muddy spring weather, you may need to start seeds indoors. This isn’t always an easy task, as plants started in this artificial setting experience several distinct disadvantages. However, there are some easy tips you can follow to make sure your seedlings are healthy and thrive when transplanted in the garden.
- Store seeds properly
Seeds are incredibly fragile, and can lose viability if they aren’t stored in the right conditions. Seeds should be kept in a cool, dark place, such as a refrigerator. Be cautious storing seeds in a basement or garage, as they are vulnerable to too much humidity, and can develop mold. Label each seed packet carefully, and store in a large plastic container.
If you want to test the success of your storage procedures, test a few seeds by soaking them in water. Those that are still active will sink, while the dead will float.
- Keep records
Organization is an essential part of plant propagation. Regardless of the size of your farm or garden, knowing when, how, and which plants to seed is a sure step for success. Keep track of the date that you sow your seeds, as well as their germination date and success. You should also have an ideal date set for when you need to begin transplanting or hardening off your plants.
Keep these records for several years, so that in future seasons you know what worked well, and what didn’t. This will ensure you don’t use the same failed techniques over and over again.
- Choose the right containers
Use seed starting trays or plastic pots to start your seeds. Materials such as plastic or biodegradable cardboard work best, as clay pots tend to lose moisture. Plant in wide, shallow containers to prevent overcrowding, or utilize already-segmented containers such as egg cartons, seed cells, packs, or plug trays. Just make sure you poke holes in the bottom of recycled containers for drainage, though this is not necessary for commercially-produced seed starter trays or cells.
- Don’t bury your seeds
When planting, lightly sprinkle your seeds on the soil, then apply a thin layer of potting mix. You don’t want to completely cover them, as this will prevent light from penetrating through to induce germination. Each seed must have firm contact with the soil to germinate, so make sure they are somewhat covered, but not smothered. For best accuracy, plant each seed no deeper than its diameter.
- Provide good airflow and drainage
Most seed starting trays already have drainage systems built in, but if not, be sure to poke holes in the bottom of your trays, as previously mentioned. In addition, sprinkle sphagnum moss atop the soil to help prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi. If there is good circulation in the room where you are growing your plants, you may have adequate airflow for your plants. However, you can also add a fan to promote circulation and prevent fungi from taking hold if necessary.
- Maintain adequate moisture
If you like to garden, you already know that adding mulch or other organic matter is a great way to moderate the moisture content of your plants. However, they are too fragile as seedlings for mulching, so when you plant indoors you must find other ways to keep moisture consistent. You can invest in self-watering trays, or even just cover your seedlings with plastic lids or wrap to ensure that moisture stays constant. This practice also produces a sort of mini-“greenhouse effect” that will also help your plants stay warmer in colder temperatures.
- Make sure plants are warm
Seeds require temperatures of at least sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit to germinate. Place them near heaters or other sources of heat, or consider adding a heating pad. A heating pad can be more beneficial than other types of heat, as it does not cause the plants to dry out. Some plants, including cold-weather crops like brassicas, can germinate under colder conditions.
- Let them soak up the sun
Most plants need at least twelve to sixteen hours of sunlight, so make sure they are in a well-lit location, or supplement with heat lamps. If you must place them near drafty windows, consider covering their containers to help them absorb heat despite a breeze.
- Use high quality soil
Don’t plant your seeds in plain beach sand. Use the highest quality potting soil and compost to ensure your plants develop properly. Infertile soils will lead to weak, unproductive plants–if the seeds germinate at all.
- Supplement as needed
Once seedlings have formed and produced leaves, you can safely begin to add fertilizer. Many seed-starting potting mixes contain a nutrient charge to help plants get started, but once they reach growing height, it’s time to add more fertilizer (usually on a weekly basis). You can use organic matter such as worm tea or compost soil to add this extra fuel.
- Consider PlantCatalyst®
For optimal growth, consider adding PlantCatalyst® when you initially plant your seeds. PlantCatalyst is an organic, non-toxic water additive that allows a plant to better uptake crucial nutrients. It reduces the need for fertilizer and helps to increase the likelihood of seed germination.
PlantCatalyst® does not replace all other advice for starting seeds indoors, but it does dramatically increase the success and overall yield of your seedlings and garden. PlantCatalyst® works, as you might infer, as a catalyst, using water to increase a plant’s ability to absorb nutrients. It alters the molecular structure of water to create “micelles” chains.
These chains don’t cause any harmful side effects or produce any toxins, like a chemical compound might. PlantCatalyst® has been around for nearly forty years, and has a track record of safety, producing no harmful side effects. It is widely used on farms, backyard gardens, and in other settings. When used in conjunction with our other top tips, PlantCatalyst® helps to improve the overall health and quality of your seedlings, allowing you to make an easy transition from a flourishing springtime seedling collection to a bountiful autumn harvest.