Jump Start Your Garden
Jump Start Your Garden
By Seth McBride, Marketing Intern
Even though the weather has shown hints of spring, it feels like we still have months to go before we can enjoy our gardens. Still, many plants require a significant amount of time to reach maturity and now is the perfect time to jump start your garden. One way to work around the residual winter conditions is starting your seeds indoors. Here are six basic tips to get you started with indoor cultivation.
- You can use any type of container that will hold your desired growing medium. For example, you can work with standard pots or reuse empty food containers after they’ve been sterilized. Sterilize found containers in a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water.
- Make sure containers have good drainage holes. The point is to not let your plant stand in water. Check the drainage holes from time to time to make sure they aren’t clogged. And always empty standing water.
- Use containers no more than 3-4 inches across if you intend to transplant into the garden.
- However, abrupt transitions between growing mediums has the potential to send your plants into root shock. Biodegradable peat pots have become increasingly popular because they can be planted directly into the ground, allowing roots to have a smooth transition from the potting mix to the soil.
- Growing Medium
- Start seeds in fresh, sterile seed-starting mix that is light and fluffy, but also capable of holding moisture.
- Be sure to use potting mix, not potting soil. Mix will “wick” the water to the roots of your plant and potting soil will not.
- Soil that is too dense and sticky when watered doesn’t allow new roots to develop easily and also allows diseases like damping off to develop quickly. To avoid these problems, be sure that your soil doesn’t hold too much moisture.
- Watch for signs that indicate when a plant needs water. Look for soil that has become light colored or cracked. Pick up your plant and gauge the weight after watering. After a few lifts, you’ll be able to distinguish if your plant needs water just by the weight.
- Signs of under watering include slow leaf growth, translucent leaves, premature flowering, leaf drop, and brown, yellow, or curled leaves.
- Signs of overwatering include fungus or mold on the soils surface, mushy, brown roots, standing water on top or bottom of pot, or leaves with brown rotten patches
- Self-watering devices are available which help regulate water intake.
- Humidity and Heat
- Seed starting happens in two stages: germination and growth. While minimal light is required to germinate seeds, gentle warmth is recommended to maintain soil moisture.
- Most plants thrive in high humidity; unfortunately most homes are much drier, especially in the winter when forced heat can decrease the humidity.
- Several methods to regulate the desired humid conditions include using a humidifier, grouping plants closer together, and daily mistings with a sterilized spray bottle.
- Temperature preferences vary from plant to plant, but many plants thrive in temperatures between 65-75 during the day and 55-60 at night.
- As seedlings break through the surface, they quickly run out of fuel and rely on light as their new source of energy. Seedlings require lots of light or they will become stalky, spindly, and feeble.
- Window light is typically too weak to support strong seedling growth. Plus, if your plants don’t receive enough lighting, they are more prone to attacks by fungus.
- Fluorescent light fixtures are ideal for starting seedlings because they provide a sufficient source of light, but they don’t heat up with the same intensity as incandescent lights.
- You can easily build a light shelf using a heavy-duty, wire shelving unit. Hang shop lights from the undersides of the shelves with wire and place your seedling flats or pots on the shelves.
- Transplanting Conditions
- Gardeners are always eager to get plants into the ground, but many a seedling has been killed by a May frost or slowed by cold soil.
- Introduce your plants to the outdoors gradually, a process called “hardening off.” A few hours one spring day, then a few hours more the next, will allow your plants to taste the outdoors. Make sure they receive indirect sunlight and do not stay out over night for the first few outings. After a week or so, they will have adjusted to the outdoors and will be ready to transplant.
- Prepare your seedling’s future home by amending the soil prior to transplanting. Add compost to help give your plants a nutrient boost.
- Transplant on a cool, overcast day to minimize shock.
- Water well, and get ready to watch your plants grow.