Garden Planting and Seed Germination
Mother Nature has her own way of germinating seed. In the field she provides
warmth from the sun, moisture from the clouds(or your garden hose or sprinkling
can) and nutrients in the soil. Mother Nature also has a way of disappointing
us from time to time by either not bringing one of the essential ingredients
or bringing too much all at once.
Many vegetables and flowers benefit from being started indoors. Growing seedlings
indoors provides the plant a jump start on the season and is especially necessary
in areas with shorter growing season. Indoor planting is a more controlled
environment and when done right will produce strong and healthy seedlings
timed perfectly to place outdoors after the last frost.
For the grower, indoor planting can and should be fun. It gives you the
opportunity to start your gardening season a little sooner than people who
buy their seedlings from the garden store. Can you match the health and quality
of garden store seedlings? Absolutely! And, you can save money while having
the fun of watching your seedlings grow.
There are some important steps to growing healthy seedlings indoors. Many
people who attempt to grow seedlings indoors have dis-appointing results.
With a little knowledge and effort, everyone can start seedlings indoors.
The essentials for good germination are:
Viable seeds- Good seeds that are not hollow and are not so old that germination
rates are poor. You assume the seed is viable when purchased, but it is a
concern if you save your own seed or get some from a fellow grower.
Soil- A good, seed starting mixture that is light and sterilized.
Water- The soil should be moist, but not soaked.
Warmth- Here is where growers can add to their success. Different seeds require
different temperatures for ideal germination to occur. The ideal range for
most, but not all seeds is somewhere between 70 to 85 degrees.
Did you know? You can warm your pots to a more ideal temperature by
a variety of means. Some people buy heating mats. Others make a box, and
add a light bulb inside. These are two of a wide variety of ways to raise
the temperature for better germination.. We recommend you also have a thermometer
to help maintain the proper temperature range.
Here are my recommended step by step instructions to maximize germination:
Select the pots or containers you want to use. Plastic containers with slots
for individual plants are popular. Select a size large enough for the roots
to spread and not get "root bound". Fiber containers are also popular, but
roots can spread and make separation more difficult.
Fill the pots with soil. Use a Seed Starter mix if you are a new grower.
Many contain all the nutrients a new seedling will need in it's first few
weeks of life. Use of "Sterilized" soil is strongly recommended to minimize
the risk of disease and even "critters" in the mix.
Experienced growers will create their own starter mix and add a concoction
of a number of other things. I add a little ash from the fireplace and sometimes
add mulch. If you use mulch, make sure it is clean of insects.
Sow the seeds carefully in the pots. The seed packet will contain planting
depths and other instructions. A general rule of thumb is twice the diameter
of the seed. For fine and tiny seeds, you can spread on top of the soil and
they will submerge below the soil as you water them.
Water thoroughly and gently, but do not soak. Remember, the seed is only
slightly below the surface.
Apply bottom heat if the room temperature is low. Once the plant has sprouted,
stop the bottom heat as it can harm the roots.
Now the wait begins! Germination time is dependent upon a number of things:
warmth and type of seed being the primary factors. Generally, a week to ten
days for most seeds, but more or less may not be unusual.
Seeds do not need sunlight to germinate. The instant they begin to emerge,
they need sunlight and lots of it.
TIP: Coating seeds with Captan to protect against mold and fungus
growth is a common practice.
Seedling Care and Nurturing:
Upon emerging from the soil, gardeners breath a big sigh of relief. The big
first step has successfully occurred! Close your eyes and you can almost
see the flower you planted reaching it's beautiful peak or if a vegetable,
you envision the blue ribbon at your local fair. As we open our eyes, we
immediately begin the new set of worries over nurturing the newborn indoors
for a short while longer. There are real worries as most homes in springtime
are cooler, shadier and damper than plants like.
Let there be light- - and plenty of it: The newborn seedling immediately
needs light, as much and as direct as possible. Placing it by a window with
a southern exposure is the first step. But this alone may not prove to be
enough for the seedling to grow healthy and strong. The sun is not up as
long in the spring as it is in the summer. Second, there are many rainy spring
days with little or no direct sun. And, many of us do not have a south facing
window. You should also acquire an artificial Grow Light and place the seedlings
under it on cloudy days and at night. The seedling will benefit from as much
sun, real and artificial, as possible.
Let There be Water- - in just the right amount: Provide water to the
plants every couple of days. Do not soak the soil each night. Overly wet
soil is one of the basic ingredients for damping off disease. Let the soil
dry out a little on the top, then water thoroughly.
Feed me, feed me: The seedling does not need a lot of extra nutrients
at first. Your potting soil has some, the seed also had some stored inside
of it. After several days, add a little Liquid Fertilizer to the water, but
you do not need to give it full strength.
Let there be no Damping Off Disease:
Those of us who have grown seedling indoors for any number of years
know what "Damping Off" disease. This is a white mold that forms in the top
of the soil. Damping Off disease flourishes in cold, wet damp weather along
with little sunshine. It quickly spreads across the soil and wilts the seedling.
Take it's habitat away, and the disease can not survive. Your plants love
just the opposite conditions. So the more you make conditions ideal for your
newborn plants, the more likely you will avoid this problem.
If you do experience problems, do not give up hope. Here are some things
you can do to minimize or eliminate disease problems:
First, get the plant in direct sunlight if at all possible.
Stop watering until the surface is very dry.
Scrape as much of the mold off the soil as possible.
Stir the top of the soil as much as possible. Do this once or twice a day.
It will also speed drying.
Add some soil, although this may or may not produce results.
Increase room air circulation. You can gently blow air on your plant trays
with a small fan.
Avoid sowing your seeds in the basement and leaving them there for a couple
of days. While the trays are conveniently out of the way, this is a perfect
breeding ground for Damping Off Disease.
The vast majority of plants can be started directly outdoors. The methods
vary along with the type of plant. Read up on the plants you are using to
assure proper planting.
Here are some useful steps and information to guide you along the way:
Determine if the plants can withstand light frosts and freezes.
Find out the last frost dates for your area and time your planting accordingly.
Consider buying pretreated seeds or coating the seeds with a fungicide prior
Prepare, your garden soil.
Decide upon the method of to plant your seeds- in rows or furrows, in hills.
Also determine whether you will slightly elevate of mound the soil, or whether
you will make a slight trench.
Plant the seeds according to the instructions on the packet. The most common
problem of new and experienced growers is to resist the temptation to crowd
them into a smaller space than the particular variety requires.
A word about seed depth: The most common mistake in planting is to sow the
seeds too deep. The rule of thumb is plant at twice the diameter of the seed.
For fine seed, spread them on top of the soil and water them in.
If your soil is dry, water thoroughly. Usually in spring planting there is
enough water in the soil and more rain is on the way. Most seeds rot in wet
soils,so make sure to provide good drainage.
For initial germination and growth no fertilizer is needed. But, side dressing
the plants wit a general purpose fertilizer will help the new seedlings to
The day you plant your seedlings is one of the more exciting and anxious
days. Often we start the seedling too early and it is growing so big that
it needs to get into the ground. Or perhaps it is not getting enough sunshine
or you want to get that jump start on the season. Whatever the reason, it
is important either to wait until the chance of frost is over, or be prepared
to spend time protecting the young seedling.
Seedlings should be "Hardened off" before they are planted into your garden.
This is accomplished by setting them outside for several days prior to your
planting date. Increase the amount of time each day into evening hours. This
accustoms the plant to wider variations in temperature.
Tip: Toughen up the stem of tall plants to help them withstand winds
which they do not experience indoors. You can do this by lightly brushing
the tops of the plants with a newspaper, or your hand. Do this two or three
times a day, and in all directions. Repeat this for a few days before
transplanting. The plant may temporarily slow it's growth in height to
concentrate on developing a thicker stem. This is good.
Here are some simple idea and tips to get your growing season off to a good
If you have not yet prepared the planting site, do so a few days or week
If you have grown the seedlings indoors, you should "harden them off" a few
days prior to planting. This is accomplished by placing them outside during
the day for a few days prior to planting. Each day extend the hours and make
sure to bring them in at night.
Dig a hole in the soil where you want the plant to go. Make the hole three
or four times larger than the size of the roots.
For peat pots, you can place the plant pot and all right in the soil. You
can make slits and/or holes in the peat pot to allow the roots to escape
more readily. Use care not to disturb the roots or slice them.
If you are using plastic or fiber containers, carefully pull out a plant.
Remember, the less you disturb the roots, the less transplant shock.
Fill in soil around the pot and plant. Use garden soil or mix in compost.
You can cover any or all of the stem up to the primary(first) set of leaves.
Do not push the soil heavily down around the plant. You can always add nutrient
rich compost, if the soil compacts and sinks.
Thoroughly the transplant immediately after planting with a light solution
of Liquid Fertilizer.
Keep the soil around the seedling moist. Use a light solution of liquid
fertilizer in the first few weeks as the roots will have plenty of nutrients
if you prepared the bed properly. You need not water too deeply at first
as the roots are shallow.
Avoid over watering . You do not want to wash nutrients out of the bed that
More on Transplanting
Transplant shock is a temporary stunting of the leaves and branches of a
plant immediately after transplanting. The plant temporarily re-focuses it's
energy to growing new roots due to damage which occurred in the transplanting
process. As long as major damage was not made, the plant should recover and
thrive. A little help from you will minimize the degree of transplant shock.
Here are some helpful tips and hints to aid your plant during planting and
immediately after to avoid major transplant problems:
During planting treat your plant as gently as possible. Take care to minimize
any disturbance to the roots.
"Harden off" your plants. This is a process of exposing the plant to the
outdoors for increasing amounts of time prior to transplanting.
Soak the roots with a liquid fertilizer the night before transplanting. This
will help promote root growth and plant vigor.
Provide plenty of water immediately after transplanting and for a few days
Don't pack down the soil. This only serves to disturb more roots.
Transplant during early evening hours if possible. This allows the plant
to recover a bit over night, and avoids a hot sun beating down upon adding
to the plant's stress.
If you have a choice, transplant during a cloudy day and during cooler weather.
If the weather is hot and cooler weather is in the forecast, your plant is
further ahead if you wait a few days for the cold front to pass through.
More Gardening Resources:
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Deer, and Rabbit Pest Netting - Keeps critters out, period!
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