For those of you interested in getting a jump start on the spring growing season, now is the time to start those seedlings for transplant in the garden next month. With a little careful planning and preparation now, you can have any number of flowering annuals, herbs, and vegetables ready for planting, weeks ahead of a regular direct-sown outdoor planting schedule. And we’ll tell you how.
Plan to organize your seed packets this month to create a sowing schedule for your seeds. Look up the date of the last expected freeze in your area, and use that as a guideline for planning. You can find information on frost dates for most cities in North Carolina from the National Climatic Data Center website. Then check the instructions on the seed packets to find the number of weeks of growth required before each seedling can be transplanted to the garden outside. Count the weeks back from the last expected freeze to know when to sow your seeds.
Here’s a few tips for sowing seeds for transplant.
1. Moisten a sterile, seed-starting mixture and fill your pots or trays to within 1/4 inch of the top.
2. Sow very fine seeds with vermiculite or sand. Mix the seeds with the vermiculite or sand and pour the mix into the center of a folded piece of paper. Tap the paper gently over the medium to sow the seeds.
When sowing medium to large seeds, use the end of a pencil to create a hole in the mix. Plant seeds no deeper than recommended. Drop one or two seeds in each hole.
3. Press extremely fine seeds lightly into the medium, or water them in with a fine mist spray. Cover the seed if light is not required for germination. A thin layer of vermiculite is enough. Otherwise, leave the seed uncovered, exposed to light.
For medium to large seeds, cover seeds to a depth equal to twice their diameter.
4. Label the pot or flat with the name of the plant and the date it was planted. Read the packet and make note of the date the seed is expected to germinate so you will know when to expect sprouts to appear.
5. Spray mist the seeds to water them in. If watering from the top may disturb the seeds, place the entire container into a tub containing a few inches of water. Allow the mixture to become saturated, then set the pots or flats aside to drain.
6. Cover the pots or trays with plastic wrap, or put them in a plastic bag secured at the top to retain moisture.
7. Unless the seeds require cool temperatures, move them to a location between 65 and 75 degrees F. in bright but indirect light. When the seeds have sprouted, expose them to bright light. Remove the plastic covering and put them under fluorescent lights. Two 40-watt fluorescent lights are a good choice and provide the quality of light required by the plants. Set the trays on your light stand and lower the lights so they’re barely touching the topmost leaves. Keep the lights on for sixteen hours each day. An automatic timer can help here. As the seedlings grow, raise the lights.
Determine the need for watering by squeezing the top 1/2 inch of medium between your fingers. If water squeezes out easily, there’s plenty of water. If the medium feels moist but water is difficult to squeeze out, add water. Just remember to water the seed flats no more than necessary.
Seedlings growing in soil-less mixtures need to be fertilized when the first true leaves appear. Feed at every other watering with a water-soluble fertilizer to promote faster growth until the plants are ready to be transplanted outdoors.
For more information and all the supplies you need to start your own garden indoors this month, be sure to stop by the garden center. Our friendly experts are on hand 7 days a week to help with all your gardening needs. Hope to see you soon!