The first step in any gardening endeavor is the planning and organizing of exactly what your future garden will include. An excellent place to start your garden planning can be achieved through obtaining free seed catalogs which in turn will help determine what flower seeds, vegetable seeds, herb seeds and garden accessories will be needed and used.
If you will be planting flower or vegetable seeds selected from your free seed catalogs the following tips can be helpful for starting seeds and can include; using a sunny window with southern exposure if possible or using cool white florescent bulbs; using clean containers with good drainage (fiber or peat pots must be soaked first); purchasing fresh seeds; using a good commercial soil as it will be sterile and free of weed seeds; filling pots within a quarter inch of top with potting mix, leveling, watering, allowing to drain and making a hole for all flower or vegetable seeds with pencil or finger; fine seeds can be covered with a fine layer of soil, larger seeds with a bit more soil; keeping evenly moist, but not soaking wet; some flower or vegetable seeds require light other flower or vegetable seeds total darkness; once germinated all flower or vegetable seeds need light.
Once your flower or vegetable seeds are germinated keep moist not soaked and after leaves have developed start fertilizing by using a good liquid organic fertilizer.
Starting Seeds Indoors
In many parts of the country, now is the perfect time to sow seeds indoors for transplanting in spring! If you’re getting ready to sow your garden, here are a few tips to get you started:
Consider sowing your seeds and growing on your seedlings in one step – in Burpee 72-Cell Greenhouse Seed Starting Kit. This seed starter is one of the best-selling products, and it’s easy to see why. Instead of fooling with grow mix, seed flats, peat pots, and the like, you simply moisten the bio-sponges, drop your seeds into the pre-drilled holes (and if those seeds are getting harder to see every year, like they are for me, we’ve got a nifty little Pro Hand-Seeder from England that will help you avoid wasting a single seed!), and set the Burpee kit wherever you’ve got some spare space. The clear plastic humidity dome (with adjustable vents) raises the temperature inside a degree or two, and you can use it with heat mats if you’re starting seeds in a chilly part of the house. As the seedlings sprout and grow, their roots grow down and out through the long, porous bio sponges, so they’re ready to transplant in spring. It’s easy and very, very dependable.
If you’d rather start with soil and flats, Miracle-Gro Potting Mix has been delighting gardeners for decades! It’s economical and reliable, and you can use it with everything from seed flats to plastic trays and cells to Jiffy Strip peat pots.
And if you’re looking to Really start from scratch this year, try mixing your own seed-starting medium. With your own mixture, you can be sure you’re giving your plants exactly what they need for a great start in life. Here is a tried-and-true recipe for germinating almost any seed and growing on the young seedlings:
Whether you use ready-made Potting Mix or make your own, add a little lukewarm water to the mix and work it in well with your hands before sowing the seeds. And when watering the mixture, use a nozzle-and-bulb or other gentle source, to avoid washing out the seeds. (If you’re using the Burpee 72-Cell, water from the bottom of the tray, which encourages the roots to grow down.)
Unless you’ve got a good source of southern light, you may want to use fluorescent lights to help your seedlings grow. Many seedlings are not happy on windowsills or beneath windows in the wintertime; drafts can be deadly (the Burpee 72-Cell and other seed starters with a clear cover help avoid this problem). If possible, use grow lights such as economical Hydrofarm Jump Start T5 Grow Light System or the powerful Goliath Plant Light. Place the young seedlings under lights as soon as they straighten up after unfurling their first set of leaves (actually cotyledons). You can put them much closer to the source of light than you’d expect – just a few inches is ideal for many vegetables and flowers. (Of course, as they grow, keep an eye on the young plants and adjust the light upward so the tender leaves don’t touch or get too close to the light!)
When the spring weather finally arrives and you’re ready to transplant the seedlings, take an extra week to “harden off” the young plants. When all danger of frost is past (if they’re frost-sensitive plants), set the plants outdoors in a sheltered location for a few hours a day. Increase the time spent outdoors each day, and gradually move them from full shade to partial sunlight. The final 3 or 4 nights before being transplanted, they should be spending all day and night outdoors, though not in full sun (to avoid drying them out; their roots cannot absorb much water in their small containers!). This extra step will save many plants from a quick death in your garden!
Transplant the seedlings on an overcast day, or late in the afternoon, so that they aren’t immediately faced with hours and hours of direct sun. (If your schedule makes that impossible, rig up a sheet or other covering over the plants for the first day.) Follow the specific planting instructions for each variety, remembering to water the young plants in well and to mulch as heavily as you can around them. Mulch not only keeps the weeds down, but also keeps the soil temperature uniform, which is less stressful for young plants. And it prevents moisture evaporating from the top of the soil, so those growing roots get a little extra drink every time you water!
If you’re growing tomatoes or peppers, a great mulch is simple red plastic, because it fools the plants into thinking they’re overcrowded – so they grow much more vigorously! But any plastic tarp will do just fine. And if you can, organic mulches are terrific because they actually improve the soil as they sink in. Pine bark, wood chips, ground-up dried leaves, composted vegetables and grass clippings, and more are all great sources of organic mulch. Your garden will thank you for years to come!
Have fun starting your seeds indoors this winter, and best wishes for an early and beautiful spring!