Seed Starting 101

Here’s what you need to know to get your seeds started.

By Tina Jepson

 

It’s that time of the year again — you can feel it in the air. Here in the South, daffodils are peeking through the ground and the Bradford pears are budding. Before you know it, spring will officially be here.

 

If you’re anything like me, once you start smelling that fresh, clean air — it’s impossible to think about anything else but gardening. So, let’s get to it, shall we?

 

Whether you sport a green thumb or a black one, there is something magical and truly fulfilling about growing your garden goodies from seed.

 

Here’s what you need to know to get your seeds started this spring.

 

1. Determine your Timeline

Just because you’re starting your seeds inside doesn’t mean you can afford to jump the gun. By sowing seeds too early, you run the risk of needing to transplant them before the last freeze date—something you should avoid.

 

The best way to time your seed starts perfectly is to know your plant hardiness zone. For starters, follow this link to the USDA website . There, you can input your zip code and determine your zone. Keep in mind that most seeds are started indoors six to eight weeks before they’re ready to head outside.

 

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2. Plan your Garden

Whether you’re planning a small raised bed or a larger garden, it’s important to have a plan. After choosing the fruits and vegetables you want, create a rough sketch of your garden.

 

Take into account the space each plant requires and don’t forget to research varieties that shouldn’t be planted next to one another. For example, you don’t want to plant tomatoes next to corn because they will stunt each other’s growth. Instead, tomatoes prefer onions and peppers as neighbors.

 

A bit of planning and research goes a long way in ensuring your garden produces both the quality and quantity you’re looking for.

 

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3. Purchase Seeds & Plant Indoors

To know the exact date to plan your seeds indoors, refer to the back of the seed packets. When you’re six to eight weeks out from your last frost date (depending on the timeline for your particular seed), it’s “go time!”

 

Thankfully, it doesn’t take much to start seeds inside. Gather sterile seed starting soil or peat/coconut fiber plugs and place them in a vessel such as an egg carton or plastic container. When using plugs, wet to expand them and then fluff the soil to prepare them for the seeds. Then, sow two or three seeds per plug/section, water, and cover with clear plastic wrap.

 

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Place containers in a well-lit room where your plants can receive anywhere from 12 to 15 hours of sunlight every day.

 

4. Nurture, Wait, and Nurture Some More

After sowing the seeds, it’s time to wait. After all, patience is a gardener’s best friend.

 

For perspective, tomatoes begin to emerge from the soil about a week after they’re planted, while peppers take roughly two weeks. Once the cotyledons (first leaves) begin to peek through the soil, remove the plastic dome/wrap.

 

If the soil becomes dry, use a spray bottle to provide just the right amount of water without submerging and otherwise over-watering your seed pods.

 

Once your plants form a second set of leaves (“true leaves”), begin fertilizing using a diluted solution of liquid fish fertilizer (begin with 1/4 the recommended dilution). Around the same time, remove the weakest stems in each section by cutting them near the surface of the soil.

 

Then, transplant your single, strong starts into larger containers such as plastic drinking cups or 3-inch peat pots.

 

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5. Acclimate

As your plants grow and the weather gets warmer, begin acclimatizing your plants to life outside your home.

 

Two to three weeks before you plan to transplant outdoors, place plants outside unless temperature drops under 45° F. Keep a close eye on them, especially if wind or rain is in the forecast. Most master gardeners also recommend watering less frequently as it nears time to transplant outside.

 

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6. Plant Outdoors & Reap the Rewards

You’ve taken great care of your seedlings these past two months, but it’s time for them to start making magic.

 

Carefully remove any plastic containers and/or directly plant your biodegradable peat pots into a prepared, compost-rich garden bed and water properly.

 

Before you know it, your homegrown garden will be overflowing with delicious fruits and vegetables.

 

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Images used with permission, courtesy of www.bigstock.com and www.dreamstime.com