This year you made the decision to start a few seeds indoors. Perhaps this was done in the hopes of saving a little money or to be able to grow a variety of plants not found at the local nursery store. All necessary supplies have been gathered, seeds have been planted and lovely little shoots are now bursting forth. What comes next is immensely important to ensure the health and vitality of your dainty little seedlings.
First, let me offer my congratulations and welcome you to the club of indoor seed growers. The enjoyment of watching a plant grow from one tiny seed to a thriving, healthy beautiful plant is tremendous. I also give a friendly warning. Once started onto the path of seed growing, a whole new world will be opened to you. From this time forward it will be near impossible to return to buying plants in the same old way. Don’t let setbacks, u-turns or cautions scare you. Plunge ahead full throttle. The pleasure and reward from the fruit of your labor awaits you.
All playfulness aside, I realize growing your own plants from seed can seem a bit daunting and can make the strongest of hearts tremble at times. All of us in the club have gone through it at one time or another, and sometimes regularly. Today my mission is to let you in on a few well known secrets for growing healthy plants. Master just four elements and you will be rewarded with strong, vibrant plants. If you have yet to start your seedlings, follow this link on how to start your seedlings indoors. Element #1 – Light
Plants need a sufficient amount of light for healthy growth. Without enough light plants look leggy, spindly and have a very poor root system. It is important to place your seedlings in a South facing window with as much light as possible. Turn plants frequently to help plants grow upwards, as plants will naturally reach towards the light.
Unfortunately, even with a strong south facing window it still may not be enough light to produce a strong healthy robust plant. Investing in a grow light is a sound option. When using a grow light make sure that it is 2-4 inches above the top most leaves, continuing to raise the light as the plants grow. This helps to keep the plants from straining to reach the light and allows the root system to develop properly in tandem with the rest of the plant. The plant’s stem and leaves may grow a bit slower at first but this pays dividends later because the root system is strong.
Plants should receive light for 12-16 hours each day (I usually supply mine with 14 hours a day to start and increase or decrease the amount of light as I see how the plants are faring). It is important here to note that plants are also in need of rest. Darkness signals this resting period to your plants, so be sure to include at least 8 hours of darkness in their normal cycle. A 24 hour timer works wonderfully when using grow lights. Just set it and forget it. Element # 2 – Temperature
Every plant has its own preference for optimal temperature. Green leafy vegetables, brassicas, and onions (examples of cool weather crops), prefer a milder temperature while tomatoes, peppers, eggplant (sun loving vegetables), prefer a greater amount of heat. Temperatures can be significant when starting your seeds indoors and plays a role in the health and growth of your tiny seedlings.
A Seedling Heat Mat with a Thermostat is a great tool in helping to maintain the optimum temperature when growing your seedlings. Maintaining the proper temperature of your seedlings can be problematic if a mixture of cool weather and warm weather seeds are sown in close proximity to one another. To solve this issue, think ahead and try grouping your plants together in their respective categories when seeds are first sown.
The overuse of water seems to be the biggest problem with first time indoor seed growers. Their motto seems to be “if a little is good, than more must be better”. Unfortunately, this is not the case. New seedlings are vulnerable to bacteria and fungus which tends to find a haven in overly wet soil, producing the familiar problem of “damping off” or rotting of the seed (fungus or mold can produce this unwanted phenomena), that plagues the indoor seed grower.
To prevent damping off, proper temperature of the soil (as stated above) and the prudent use of water is important. Once seeds begin to sprout remove any outer covering used to retain moisture and place plants into proper light. If you use a Soilless Mix in planting your seeds, over-watering is a little bit more difficult to accomplish, as the mix itself does not hold onto the water as a potting soil would. I recommend starting all your seeds with a soilless mix for this very reason. On the flip side, with a soilless mix, it is important to keep an eye on your plants and water lightly as necessary to keep the top slightly damp. Let the plant itself be the best judge of when it needs to be watered. Do not water directly on top of the plant, but add water to the soil itself.
When using potting soil, be sure to allow the soil to dry out on the top surface before watering. Always water from the bottom up, by allowing the planted seedling cell trays to sit in water and soak up the water to the top for 20 minutes or so, or until the soil on top is noticeably damp. Be sure to remove the water from the outer tray the cells have been sitting in when topsoil is damp to prevent soil from becoming overly saturated.
Air circulation is important in providing a slight irritation to your plants to toughen them up and encourage a thickened hardy stem. Just like with people, a constant irritation produces a tougher shell. Plants outdoors in nature have access to natural air circulation to help spur their growth. This is simple to duplicate indoors by employing an oscillating fan that simulates a gentle breeze and a stirring of the air. Setting the fan on its lowest setting will provide plenty of the needed air circulation. It is a good idea to rotate your plants regularly to provide a varying amount of air circulation (so not only the closest plants to the fan will have the most benefit). Apply these four elements with your seedlings and the results will be a strong start to healthy and strong viable plants.
Coming up next week, I will discuss when and how to re-pot seedlings to ensure best nutrition and preparation for the outdoor transition.
Today’s Post: Life is full of Curve Balls
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