How to Start Seeds for a Beautiful Garden
I am sharing how to start seeds as it is a fast and easy way to get tons of flower or vegetables plants for less money than buying at a nursery or garden center.
Why Start from Seeds?
I especially love heirloom types of flowers that are hardy, easy to grow and unusual. Ones you can’t normally get in your local garden center. So I need to start my own seeds.
There are tons of ways to do this and I have tried a good many of them. So I am going to let you know what has been the most successful for me in getting really strong seedlings that grow into gorgeously strong flowers or veggie plants.
My Secret Weapon
I will tell you about the fan later.. I have had this planting rack in my dining room, living room, upstairs spare bedroom and in the greenhouse, wherever the mood strikes me. This rack is awesomely easy to move where I want it.
I got this one at Costco…I think they are about $90 now, they were $75 back when I purchased mine about 10 years ago. They last forever. (watch for sales at Costco, my hubby just picked this up at Costco for under $70)
I also found one on Amazon and linked it below, nice that it is shipped right to you.
List of items you will need:
1. A rack or shelf of some sort to hang grow lights above your pots
2. Decorative rope lights for bottom heat (not absolutely necessary but helpful)
3. sterile containers for planting in
4. shop lights with Ott or Grow light bulbs (if you use regular florescent bulbs get both cool and warm ones so your plants get the broad spectrum of light)
5. sterile seed starting mix (I have also used finely screen compost that has been sterilized mixed with perlite but that is an entirely whole post in itself so stick with the easy route and buy seed starting mix)
6. chick grit (available at feed stores or online) or horticultural sand available at garden centers or big box stores.
7. plant trays for your containers to sit in for bottom watering (mine have the clear lids for keeping the moisture in but I will tell you a trick to use if you don’t have those)
8. small fan
Most folks say to start seeds in their own little pots, whether they be the little peat pots, the little squished tabs that balloon up when you add water or the plastic six pack containers, the theory being you won’t have to disturb their roots when transplanting.
After trying those methods I found I have better success when I plant many seeds in the same container and let them grow up together for awhile.
The glorious container I have had the best success rate with is the lowly plastic tub (I recycled some we had but I also like the ones I linked to below from Amazon)
Lately I have been using Spring Mix salad containers, easy to pierce holes in and they have a lid to create a mini greenhouse effect.
If they are used make sure to clean and sanitize them with a bleach solution to kill chances of fungus or other bad germs getting to your precious little seedlings.
I poke holes all along the bottom of the tubs with a drill. I stack several together upside down, so I can drill the holes in many tubs at the same time.
I write the name of what I am planting on the side of the tub, trust me you will forget if you do a lot of them. I just use a Sharpie.
I add an inch or so of perlite to the bottom of the tub for good drainage.
Then I add my seed starting medium…a nice loose mix..about an inch or so is good. (recently I have been using Cactus mix for this and it works great)
I use warm water to moisten it all very well. (some seed starting mixes are so powdery I have to soak them with the warm water for a couple hours)
I generously add my seeds. Finer seeds I just scatter on the top and press into the soil. Read the instructions on your seed packet for each type seed and follow them.
Make sure your hands are clean, free of lotions, creams or oils, anything like that can affect your germination.
Larger seeds I space apart about an inch and press into the soil a little deeper, I don’t necessarily bury them, just press them in firmly.
Next I add a thin layer of chick grit to cover the seeds. The amount you add depends on the seeds, that is where you read the packet instructions again. (You can also use pea gravel or sharp sand)
Why Add the Grit or Sand?
Chick grit is said to discourage damping off, a fungus attack on your baby plants that can and will kill them off en masse. Chick grit is crushed granite and works great for me.
Very gently moisten the chick grit by either spraying it with warm water or super carefully watering from the top. I have a cheap little spray bottle from Wal-Mart from the dollar bin. The well moistened medium beneath should already be wet enough for the grit to get wet with the tiniest help.
Cover with a clear plastic lid. I have the trays with the lids but you can also just place another tub on top of the planting tub to create a mini greenhouse, I have done that too, just be sure to have something underneath the tub to catch the water, you can use another tub for that as well. One that is not perforated, of course. Some have used clear plastic wrap but I found that a bit too fiddily.
From now on you should only water from the bottom and with the clear plastic lid you should not need to do that much before the seeds germinate. (you can spritz with a spray bottle instead if you wish)
My Metal Shelf Set Up
I hang the shop lights from chains (come with the light) and attach them to the racks with S hooks.
I have the light you can see in the front and one behind it to bathe the entire area of the plant trays filled with the planted plastic containers.
Your lights should be as close to the seedling pots as possible, you will raise the light as the plants grow.
You can also see the green rope light snaking along under the trays. I lay it out in an S pattern along the rack, you can’t really see that but trust me. This adds a bit of bottom heat to help with germination. If the room or environment you are starting your seeds in is already warm you won’t really need this.
Keep a close eye on your pots, lift the lid of the trays to let air in from time to time. Air circulation is a must. Before you know it you will see this…
What a thrill that is!
When you see them sprouting remove the lid and you no longer need the bottom heat.
You may have seeds that have different germination time frames so it is best if you remove you the ones sprouted to outside and keep the un-sprouted under the cover and on the heat.
In the photo below you see the trays in the back still covered and the planted pots in front outside of the trays.
Why a Fan?
Now for the fan in the first photo, that is to provide air circulation and a bit of stimulation for the plants. The movement it causes makes the plants produce an enzyme that makes for strong and sturdy stems instead of the leggy weak ones.
You can also gently run your hand over the seedlings to provide that movement but it should be done throughout the day, everyday.
Some say not to let the fan air hit directly on the plants but I let mine. (I am a rebel that way) And they do fine.
When the plants get bigger, when they get their true leaves, it is time to transplant. I let them get larger in their original growing pots before I have transplanted them, I find it easier then.
I do start watering them with worm casting fertilizer when they get their true leaves so they get the nutrients they need but I don’t have to transplant them right away.
These tomato plants are way past the “when they get their true leaves” stage.
This is where having that very loose planting medium comes in handy. You can separate each individual tomato plant (or whatever you have growing) even though the roots are most likely intertwined by now. You just gently pull the roots apart, by now the stems and roots are very strong and can take it.
Handle them by the leaves and not the stems to prevent damage that may kill your seedling.
(some plants are not good candidate for starting in pots ie: cucumbers, melons, squash, you can do it but 9 times out of ten you are better off just starting them in the ground when it is warm enough or make a hot bed) click here to go to the HOT BED POST
Before you know it your seedlings have jumped up and are ready for hardening off.
That is the tough part for me, I get impatient but I will share how I do it in another post soon.
I will share what plants I am going to start from seed this year and I should get busy and get my supplies ready.
You will be popular with your friends. If you are like me and plant way more than you need you will end up with enough to share.
Happy Planting and I wish you garden success!
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