1. Select plants and varieties that do well in your area. I would love to grow Brandywine tomatoes, but there's really no hope in trying to get them to produce fruit in Alaska unless you own a greenhouse, which I don't. So I stick with 'Stupice' tomatoes, which aren't quite as heavenly but do very well in cold summer climates. If you don't know what grows well in your area, ask a knowledgeable garden center employee or a master gardener.
2. Sterilize everything! Pots and cell packs and trays and all that jazz. A 10% bleach solution works well for me. Don't reuse soil when starting seeds. Your little babies are too vulnerable to diseases such as damping off.**
|Yup. My bathtub is yellow.|
3. Follow package directions. Unless, of course, you know better. Alaska has a short season so I start things inside earlier than the package directs. (And still I don't get some things to bloom until September.) But in general if it says to plant a seed 1/8" deep, don't put it down an inch. Some plants need light to germinate and vice versa.
4. Don't expect 100% germination. It's a good idea to over plant if you need a specific number of plants. I tend to over plant by 20% unless I've had good/bad luck with that particular species in the past.
5. Label everything! It's really hard to tell some seedlings apart, especially if you have multiple varieties of the same plant. (IE purple, pink, and yellow petunias.)
6. Keep the light bright and the humidity up. You can make mini greenhouses or cover with clear plastic wrap. Use fluorescent or LED lights and keep them close to the plants, unless things are getting too hot. (Although they shouldn't with those types of bulbs.) Many people like to use one cool fluorescent and one warm to get a full light spectrum, or you can use daylight spectrum bulbs.
|I leave the lid on to keep the humidity up before the seeds sprout.|
|Then I remove the lid for air circulation once things germinate.|
|I keep the plants REALLY close to the lights unless they are starting to looked scorched or bleached out. Shade loving plants like begonias don't like to be too close. Everything else needs it to grow well.|
7. Don't fertilize for the first couple weeks after germination. Then fertilize according to package directions or whatever suits you. (I actually try to hold back on the fertilizer so things don't get too big too fast. I only have so much room.) Watch for nutrient deficiencies.
|Although this variety of snapdragon has a natural purple tinge to the leaves, purple or reddish leaves could be a sign of phosphorus deficiency. Pale green leaves tend to mean a nitrogen deficiency.|
8. Transplant when needed. Most plants grow out of those little Jiffy peat plugs in the time it takes to bake a batch of brownies. Unless you want pathetic stunted little Quasimodo plants, give them a home with more root space after some true leaves develop. Some plants can stay in little cell packs for a while (annuals like pansies, lettuces, forget-me-nots, etc.) Others need to be potted to 4", 6" or even larger sized pots (tomatoes, many perennials, supertunias, etc.)
9. Watch the watering. Seedlings in little cell packs dry out fast! I check mine once a day. For unsprouted or newly sprouted seeds I gently mist water with a spray bottle. Older seedlings can handle being watered with a pitcher. Don't keep things too soggy or you'll get diseases and gnats and all sorts of unpleasantness.
10. A little adversity makes for sturdy plants. I have an oscillating fan that I turn on for an hour or so every day. It increases air circulation, which is always a good thing, and it encourages all the little suckers to put on some muscle and thicken up their stems.
11. Watch for pests, especially things like aphids, whitefly, and spider mites. And it my case, parrots.
|The beak-shaped damage leaves no doubt as to the culprit!|
11. Harden off your plants before planting them outside. If you've never done this or don't know what I'm talking about, I'll probably cover it in a later post. But the general idea is to gradually get a plant used to its new environment before permanently moving it there. This is especially important for plants grown under artificial light, since they'll burn if you put them straight into bright sunlight for too long at first.
So that's it. Do you guys have any hints to share? Any great successes for failures? Good luck with your seeds, and have a happy spring!***
*like when my parrot lands on the edge of a flat of newly planted seeds and sends it all cascading onto the carpet. So no variegated Korean Violets this year.
**I was lazy and didn't sterilize anything last year and lost over half my seedlings. That, and I had algae growing everywhere. It was nasty.
***Well, not yet. But soon. Oh, so soon!