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How To Start Seedlings Successfully

Graphic of Seeds Sprouting

Growing from seed is a great way to expand the variety of plants in your organic garden. Starting plants from seeds may take a little effort, but it’s one of the most gratifying gardening endeavors you’ll ever experience, and it’s one of the surest ways of stretching your gardening budget.

1. Potting Container

Seedling biodegradeable pots Make sure the container you select for starting seeds is at least one or two inches deep and has drainage holes.
The potting medium should be fast draining, yet hold water. Some gardeners prefer soilless growing media which includes vermiculite, perlite or coco coir products, used alone or in combination.
You can grow the seeds from start to finish in a sterile potting mix.
Make sure that the soil is moist before filling the containers.
Use warm water and give the soil mix time to absorb plenty of moisture. You’ve added enough water when the mix holds together when squeezed without dripping.
Next, fill the container leaving at least 1/4 inch of space at the top.
Plop a seed or two in the container, topping it off with a light layer of potting mix and watering gently with a hand held sprayer or mister.

2. Improve Seed Germination

Seedling in pots At this point the proper conditions exist for germination which can be stopped by lack of moisture, warmth, air cirulation or light.

Provide even moisture for successful seed germination. If the potting mix dries out, the plants will die. Pay careful attention to the moisture level in your containers.
You may need to water every day or place the containers inside a clear plastic bag to keep the potting mix from drying out.
Remove the bag once the seeds have germinated to prevent plant diseases from developing.
Improve germination success with a Heat Mat. Easy to use, they fit under most standard-sized seed flats and gently warm the root zone 10-20°F over ambient temperatures.
Once your seeds have sprouted, room temperature is ideal.

3. How To Prevent 'Leggy' Seedlings

Leggy Seedlings Leggy seedlings are caused by a lack of light. It could be that the window you are growing your seedlings in does not provide enough light or it could be that the lights you are using as grow lights aren’t close enough to the seedling. Either way, the seedlings will get leggy.

If you are growing seedlings in a window, try to grow them in a south-facing window. This will give you the best light from the sun.
If a south-facing window isn’t available, you may want to consider supplementing the light the seedlings are getting from the window with a small fluorescent bulb placed within a few inches of the seedlings.
If you are growing your seedlings under lights (either a grow light or a fluorescent light), the best way to prevent leggy seedlings is to make sure that the lights are close enough to the seedlings. The lights should remain just a few inches above the seedlings as long as you have them indoors or your seedlings will get too tall.
You can also force seedlings that are too tall to grow thicker by brushing your hands over them a few times a day or placing an oscillating fan to blow gently on them for a few hours every day.

4. Seedling Growth

Once the seedlings develop their first set of leaves, fertilize with a mild 1/4 to 1/2 strength-solution of liquid seaweed, fish emulsion or compost tea every ten to fourteen days.
Once they have grown sufficiently, transplant the seedlings into larger containers. The best time to transplant seedlings is when they begin to develop true leaves.
The first set of true leaves are usually the second set that a seedling will produce. The first set are cotyledon leaves and won’t support the plant.
Using a fork or a chopstick, gently lift the seedling from its original container getting as much of the root system as possible.
If you need to hancdle the little plant, grasp its leaves, not the stem which is brittle.
Gently water the new transplants and return them to the light source until you begin to see new growth

5. Transplant Into The Garden

Transplanting seedlings into the garden Your seedlings should be ready to transplant in 5 to 10 weeks.
Gradually introduce them to the great outdoors. Start with a few outings of just a couple hours during the warmest part of the day.
Gradually add hours until they’ve acclimated, or hardened-off, and can be planted outdoors.
Transplant the seedlings into your well-prepared garden soil on an overcast day or early in the morning or evening, when the sun is not too strong.
Remove the tender seedlings carefully from their containers taking care to disturb the root ball as little as possible.
Plant them one at a time in a pre-dug hole (about twice the size of the root ball), press the soil down firmly around the roots.
Water immediately with seaweed extract solution to seat the transplant and prevent transpalnt shock.
Keep your seedlings evenly moise for one to two weks aver planting.

Further Information

The Life Cycle of Plants: Fertilization
The Spruce: How to Make Your Own Fertilizer
Pollination and Fertilization