Think Spring … Starting Seeds Indoors

Indoor seed starting gives you a jump start on the gardening season. Most seed catalogs arrive in the mail in late January and early February. Early indoor, planted seeds go into the garden in spring larger and stronger, which makes them more able to handle outdoor conditions. Starting seeds inside in late winter or early spring also yields plants that reach maturity sooner, leading to earlier flowering or vegetable production.

Choosing when to plant depends on the type of plant and the estimated last frost date in any area. Planting indoor plants too soon leads to overly mature plants that don’t transplant to the garden well. Most seed packets give an estimated indoor seeding date, such as eight weeks before the last frost. If no estimate is given, add four to five weeks onto the germination time listed on the seed packet, and then subtract that number from the recommended outdoor planting time. For example, seeds that take seven days to germinate and are planted outdoors after frost danger is past, should be started indoors five to six weeks before the last frost date in any area.

Seeds require sterile potting media, which prevents disease issues in the young plants.  Peat-based seed-starting soils are sterile and provide proper drainage so seedlings don’t become waterlogged. Homemade mixtures containing compost must be sterilized by heating the medium to 180 degrees F and maintaining the temperature for 30 minutes. The best draining growing media is only as good as the pot you place it in. Use only clean pots that have a drainage hole in the bottom.

Lighting can pose a challenge indoors in later winter.  Sunny windowsills may provide enough light for seedlings. Vegetables usually require eight hours of direct sun while most ornamentals grow well with at least six hours. If direct light is unavailable or weak, use fluorescent light grows. It is necessary to provide twice as much time under grow lights compared to the light requirements on the seed packet. A plant requiring eight hours of natural light needs 16 hours of artificial light.

Seeds germinate at temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees F. Most seeds don’t require light until after they germinate, so place pots in a warm room during germination without the worry about light availability. Seedling heat mats, available at garden centers, provide bottom heat that keeps the soil warm. Use these mats if you don’t have a suitably warm area for starting seeds indoors.

There is a fine line between too much and too little moisture. Seeds require evenly moist soils that aren’t soggy. Watering once at planting is sufficient if a small greenhouse is rigged up over the pots. Placing a plastic bag or sheet of plastic wrap over the plants retains the moisture in the soil during germination so seeds do not dry out during this time. Remove any covering on the pots once the sprouts appear, otherwise the high humidity may lead to fungal problems. At this point you will need to keep an eye on things to maintain proper moisture. Experience, is the only guide to what will work for you. Good luck on your harvest.

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