Basic Seed Starting Guide

I have started many of my perennials from seed starting as well as the usual annuals and some vegetables. You can obtain a greater variety of flowers as well as vegetables from taking this approach.

The commercial growers in your area usually handle the most popular plants and seeds, because they know that these will move quickly for them in the short season of selling.

seed starting rack

You will experience stronger seed growth and healthier plant starts, because you know the seed starting has good soil to grow in, and has not been laced with all kinds of plant growth chemicals. You can even obtain organically raised seed to further your efforts of good gardening habits.

I feel the most fun is from the satisfaction of watching and nurturing the progress of your seeds into plants to be transplanted into your garden.

The success story with getting the right conditions for your seed starting is of course proper watering, warmth, light, air, and soil conditions. You do not have to own or build a greenhouse to achieve these elements.

An area within the house or garage or enclosed porch where heat can be controlled is important. If you have a large terrace window with plenty of light, this will also work.

The ideal situation however is a small area where you can devote the space and light, without having to disturb or move the seedlings around. My space is about 8 foot by 8 foot and allows ample room for flower light stands on both sides.

I have also installed two large fluorescent light fixtures in the ceiling with four small pipes spaced equally apart, and running about four feet across the width of the room. These are used for starting hanging pots.

The room has a small window facing east and under it, I have placed a 3×6 foot carpenter’s work bench from any hardware store to use for potting, fertilizer, small pots and miscellaneous bug sprays. This will all lead to a successful starting seeds indoors. It’s cozy and tight at times but it works!

Soil Should Be a Good to Excellent Seed Starting Mix

If you are going to use a soil medium, make sure it is light and airy and sterile that is free of disease and weeds.

NEVER use garden soil for starting your seeds as this soil can be heavy or clumpy or both and can contain soil-borne diseases. There are less messy ways to seed starting like soil cubes already prepared and used in specially designed containers to hold the soil cubes or plugs.

I have used these with many less problems than potting soil for seed starting indoors. Whatever starting mixture you decide on, make sure your seed starting plants have the proper moisture and warmth for successful germination.

I prefer to use the containers pictured below because they are bottom watering containers either with mat absorbing moisture, or plugs that absorb the moisture from a reservoir of water in the container.

The most important thing in seed starting indoors is never to allow your seeds to dry out and by using the self-watering containers below you will accomplish this with a lot less maintenance on your part.

self-watering container

After selecting your type of container either one you are filling with sterile potting soil or using the plugs with small holes for inserting your seedlings make sure the seeds have the proper humidity by using containers like those pictured here with plastic tops to seal the moisture.

containers with plastic tops

The plastic tops will fog up with accumulated water drops providing excellent humidity to your seed starting process. These covers must be removed as soon as the first seedlings appear.

As far as warmth goes I have this plant room near the heating system in my house and it never has required me to use heat mats. Your setup however may require using heat mats for your seed starting methods.

Once your seedlings are up and growing, either turn down or turn off the heat mats. In my case I kept the thermostat in my house at 65 degrees at night. A cooler night time temperature will actually give you stronger and healthier seedlings.

Transplanting Into a Larger Container

transplanting seed starting plants

It is time to transplant your seed starting plants when they have developed their first true leaves. They should be transferred to pots like pictured above with holes in the bottom, which still provides for bottom watering but now the soil acts as a wick and brings the needed moisture to the plant.

You will need to provide a start to this by moisting the potting soil first but do not soak the soil. I mix in a pail three to four scoops of bagged plant soil (no gardening soil please), with a handful of finely grounded charcoal for moisture absorbing and a tablespoon of slow-release fertilizer.

This type of charcoal may be found at your local garden shop and really assists in keeping the soil evenly moist. In removing your seed starting transplants, there are really two methods depending on which type of starting mix you used to raise your plants.

The potting soil method may require you to wet the old soil and using a Popsicle stick, pencil, or small screwdriver to gently enlarge the hole and remove from the first container. You should have already made a hole in the center of the next container to accommodate the transplant.

Now you gently insert the plant holding it by the first leaves or support the root ball in your hand, and press the soil around the plant gently with your thumbs or fingers. The method using soil plugs is quite a different manner in your starting experience.

You fill your new container with a limited amount of soil since the entire plug is going to be transferred to the new container. It is necessary to leave sufficient depth for the entire plug, and this may in some cases dictate the size of your new container.

Remove the soil plugs from the old container by pushing a pencil through the holes in the bottom of the container. It is a less difficult procedure since you handle the seedling by the plug.

Watch Your Air Circulation

It may be necessary throughout your starting process to provide proper air circulation. Starting seeds indoors does not always provide for this, and can result in some difficult encounters with a gray fuzzy mold covering the surface of your plants, or a hardening of your surface if you are using a starting mix.

It can also happen to the soil plugs. I purchased two 12-inch fans and positioned them above the seedlings, with the clamp provided on the fan on either row of plant stands since I have a plant stand on both sides.

The fans operate on medium speed and positioned to point across the plants. The fans are also on the timer. I hope this post provided you with some valuable information in seed starting and especially starting seed indoors.

There is obviously a lot more info on this subject which I will endeavor to cover in future posts.

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