STARTING PLANTS FROM SEEDS - BY GLADYS
You may think
it is a little early to write about planting seeds, but if you are just
starting out it will take some time to get your supplies and equipment.
Also if you want the fun of starting seeds this winter, you might
put some of the supplies on your Christmas list.
packets say to refrigerate your seeds for 6 to 8 weeks before planting
so get your seeds early and look for special instructions. A good setup
may cost a little, and may not be worthwhile for just a few plants. But
if you want a plant not commonly sold in Garden Centers or you just
plain want to see if you can start something from seed, it is fun to
try. Also you can do this almost anywhere in the house.
soil is full of all sorts of creatures like fungus and bacteria so if
you use it you and your seeds are living dangerously.
Secondly, regular garden soil packs hard and makes it difficult
for seeds to start and the roots to go down like they should. Even
ordinary potting mixes can cause trouble.
So it is safest to purchase special germinating media which
usually contains fine sphagnum moss that controls stem rot and
vermiculite. Some also have perlite.
better if the soil is warm. Most vegetable and flower seeds germinate
best at 70 to 75 degrees F. There are heating pads made for this and
sold at Garden Centers. George starts his seeds in a warm furnace room.
If the motor is on top of your refrigerator, it may be warm enough up
there. This is ok if it has
plenty of light. Some seed
packets say “do not cover as light is needed to germinate”. In this
case you will need a florescent light to provide this.
Since I start a
number of plants from seed, I have a two different seed starting set ups
in the basement. The first one includes a heating pad the size of the seed
starting trays. I use the kind of black plastic trays that nurseries and
garden centers use to display and sell plants from. They have holes in
the bottom. You may even have one or two from a previous year or you can
buy them. These hold 3 inch
pots. The second or lower tray does not have holes and holds the water.
The seed starting soil should already be damp before you plant your
seeds. You may want to dampen it before you put it into the pots. If you
water your seed starting mix from the top you are likely to bury the
seeds or wash them together, so add water to the bottom tray and it will
work its way up to the seeds. Dampen
the seeds only—don’t drown!!!
I put 1 to 2
seeds per pot. Some people plant many seeds in a larger pot, cover it with
Saran wrap to keep moisture in, and then separate the plants after they
come up. I sort my seeds by
how long it takes to germinate and also by the number of days before it
blooms. This is on the seed
envelope. This means I start some seeds like geraniums and prairie
gentian as early as January. Others
like tomatoes not until March.
The second set
up is also under lights but the plants grow at a cooler temperature.
Most young plants need to get away from that bottom heat. After
germination and when the plants have 2 or 3 small leaves, then I pick up
the whole tray and put it under another set of lights and start a new
tray under the first set up! One of the secrets of good garden
transplants is to not allow the young plants to get “soft” from too
high a temperature. This
often happens if the temperature is above 72 to 75 degrees F. Most new
plants grow best at about 55 to 65 degrees F. At that temperature they
grow slower and have a good root system with a sturdy stem.
soil usually doesn’t have much fertilizer, so soon after the tray is
moved over it will need a weak fertilizer in the water in the bottom
tray. A one-fourth solution of a water soluble fertilizer is plenty. If
you fertilize too much, the plants will grow too fast and have a weak
As for lights,
there are special, expensive fluorescent bulbs you can buy (grow
lights), but I use one warm white light (shop light) and one cool white
light bulb in each fixture. I also reverse the tray every couple of days
so the plants get the full light spectrum provided by the two different
bulbs. My lights are on timers so the plants get 14 hours of light and
10 hours of dark. Also the fluorescent fixtures are on a chain so I can
regulate the height as they grow. Keep the lights about 2 inches to no
more than 4 inches above the top of the plants so they develop a strong,
stocky stem and don’t get leggy.
One lecture I
attended on plant propagation said, “If you are careful with your
expenses, growing your own plants won’t cost much more than if you buy
them already growing”. However, I do it every spring but mostly to
start plants that I can’t find easily.
information on starting plants from seeds contact your local County
Extension Educator, or go on line to http://ianrhome.unl.edu/search
. In the top box scroll down to “Extension”. In the bottom box type
in seeds or the name of the plant you want to start. There is a good
NebGuide (G80-503-A) on “Vegetable Garden Seed Storage and Germination
Requirements”. This talks about storing seed left over, storage life
of seeds, ideal germination temperature, and days to germinate.
University Extension also has a good web site. Go to http://www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/hortnews.
Type in “starting seeds”, or the name of the plant you want to
start. The February 11, 2005 issue of HortNews had a good article on
“Guide to Starting Vegetable Transplants” with a chart showing
optimum germination temperature, number of days to germination, day
growing temperature, and sowing to planting time in weeks.
Both of these
websites are a valuable resource and the avid gardener should bookmark
them. In the search box you can type in the name of the plant, tree,
shrub, disease, insect, flower, or vegetable you want information about,
and a list of publications will appear. You can print them off or
download this University based information for free.
Copyright Dec. 18,