With spring right around the corner, ‘tis the season to get ready for planting! One of the first steps towards growing your own garden is germinating your seeds. There are several ways to start seeds, whether it is with a paper towel, starter plugs, rockwool, or directly into soil or soilless medium. The process for sprouting seeds can vary from variety to variety. Some seeds even need to go through a “frost”, or winter, and may need to spend some time in the refrigerator in order to stimulate the germination process. Since there are so many types of plants that thrive in different climates, it is important to read the instructions on the package of seeds for the particular plant you are growing.
Some seeds do best when they are soaked in water prior to planting. This generally applies to large seeds or seeds with a hard seed coat. Here are some guidelines to follow when soaking your seeds:
- Soaking them helps to soften their shells and absorb moisture.
- Some growers choose to soak their seeds in actively-aerated compost tea.
- When soaking seeds, be careful not to leave them fully submerged in water for too long, or they can drown.
- Seeds need both air and oxygen for healthy germination.
- It’s a good idea to research the specific requirements of the varieties you are growing prior to starting your seeds.
Whether or not you soak your seeds, the next step is to plant the seed into the desired growing media. Here are some tips to follow:
- Pre-soak the growing medium before sowing the seeds.
- Common growing media includes: peat based plugs such as Jiffy Preformas a.k.a Mad Farmer “Mad Roots”, rockwool, Oasis cubes, soil, and soilless media. Note: If using rockwool, make sure it is pre-soaked at a pH of 5.5 or treated with a rockwool soak before planting seeds into it.
- It is a good idea to use a cell tray with individual cubes so each seedling can root into its own cube without its roots getting tangled with the other seedling’s roots.
- Poke a hole into the medium with a pencil eraser and gently loosen it up.
- Carefully insert 1-2 seeds in each hole at approximately ¼” depth.
- Lightly covered the seed with a small amount of medium.
- Give the freshly planted seeds fresh purified water.
- You can use a mister to make sure the medium gets an even application of moisture.
- Be careful not too over water the seeds. Too much water can create a soggy environment that could kill the seeds.
- The media should always remain damp and never completely dry out.
Freshly planted seeds are like babies; they need to be pampered with plenty of love. You want to create ideal environmental conditions for newly planted seeds to ensure they take root. They will do best in a warm and moist environment. Here are some tips to follow:
- Once your seeds are planted in the desired media and given fresh water, place them under a clear plastic dome to retain optimal humidity.
- Place them under T-5 cool spectrum 6500 K fluorescent lighting.
- One 2’ foot strip light should be enough to start all the seeds in a standard 10”x20” tray.
- The light should be kept at a distance of 6”-12” above the surface of the tray.
When the seed sprouts out of the medium you know the germination process was successful. Now you just have to keep them alive. This is when the real fun begins! The first set of leaves, or “starter leaves” will not resemble the actual leaves of the plant. Soon after the starter leaves appear, the plant will grow its first set of true leaves. Here are some pointers to make sure your seedlings turn into healthy vigorous plants:
- As the seedlings grow and get bigger, more light can be added accordingly. Its okay to gradually add a few more T-5 lights at this point.
- HID lighting is not recommended for freshly sprouted plants. It is too intense for new seedlings unless it is positioned far enough away from the plants that it will not burn them.
- Once the first set of true leaves have appeared on the seedling, it is time to start feeding with a mild liquid nutrient solution.
- Since the plant is beginning its vegetative stage, it will require “grow” nutrients.
- Be careful not too over fertilize at this stage. Too strong of a nutrient solution could shock your plant or even kill it.
- If more than one seed sprouted in one cube, trim back the smallest starts so only the strongest one remains.
- You should allow your plants to “harden off” or acclimate to their new environment before transplanting them. Start by removing the plastic dome from the tray a few times throughout the day. If they are being planted outdoors, bring them outside for 1-2 hours per day so they can adjust to the climate where they will be planted.
Seedlings should be fully rooted in about 10-14 days after germination. When your plants are fully rooted, you should be able to gently remove the plant from cell tray and see fuzzy white roots popping out of the cube they were started in. Once these roots are visible, it is time to transplant the plants into larger containers or outside into the ground.
Here are some tips for successful transplanting:
- Get your container or garden bed ready for planting.
- Bring your tray of seedlings to the site where they will be transplanted.
- Gently push the plant out of the cell tray through the small hole under each cell so it is slightly protruding above the surface of the tray.
- Lift the cube from the tray holding the sides of the cube without damaging the exposed roots.
- Dig a hole in the soil or media that is about twice as big as the root ball of the plant and equally as deep.
- Place the seedling in the hole and gently cover the roots with soil, patting down slightly to ensure the roots have proper contact with the soil. Note: do not pack the soil down too firmly as this could damage to roots.
- When your plants have been successfully planted, make sure that they are thoroughly watered with a mild nutrient solution and mycorrhizae such as Plant Success’ Great White.
- Using House & Garden’s Roots Excelurator in conjunction with your fertilizer will help your plants develop a strong and disease free root system.
Now that you know how to start seeds and properly transplant them into your garden, you should be well on you way to producing your own homegrown veggies and enjoying the fruits of your labor.