Starting Seeds Early
-Starting Seeds Early-
There are lots of way to plant seeds and planting methods are dependent on seed type and your climate. We plant seeds two ways; seeding trays to force the plants to come before spring and direct seeding in our garden beds.
When we talk about starting seeds in "pots" this is a general term for anything you want to start seeds in; seed trays, peat pots, landscape pots, or even plastic tubs or Tupperware type pots. Keep in mind your seedling is only going to live in this pot for a short time so your soil depth only needs to be between 2 to 3 inches. Be mindful that any pot you choose to use will need to have holes in the bottom for watering purposes. When we start seeds early we place all pots in a tray of water and always water from the bottom. Letting your potting soil dry out during the germination process is certain death for your seedling.
That said here is a bit about starting seeds early in trays like we do. Same principles would apply to any type of pot your are using:
We do like to start some flowers that can take colder temperatures, like snapdragons, in trays so we can plant them early. Also some flower types are very slow to grow and get overwhelmed in your garden. If you are in some of the colder zones you might have to start a lot of flowers in trays to have them before summer. Not everyone has trays and you can use tupperware type containers, solo cups, 4" garden pots, or anything you have available to start your seeds early.
A 1020 tray is a standard seed tray that is roughly 10" wide, 20" long, and 2" deep. We use a solid bottom tray with an insert. The inserts come in numerous sizes and are broken down by how many cells they have. Our go to insert is a tray with 128 cells per tray. Remember your flowers are not going to live their lives in this tray and this is only for a month or two until transplant.
Here we are seeding some snapdragon seeds into a 1020 tray. We fill the tray with our moistened planting medium and make a small depression in each cell. A quick word on preparing your planting medium - Most seeds do not like very wet soil and will actually rot before germinating, so we slightly moisten our soil before sowing in trays.
There are many ways to place seeds, including hand seeders and more expensive seeding systems, but we use a baby spoon and a toothpick for very small seeds like snapdragons.
Now we cover the tray loosely with plastic wrap. They do make high clear humidity domes, which are preferable, but they are pricey and we find the plastic wrap works well. Dependent on your seed type you might also need to invest in a seed heating mat if your type of seed needs a certain temperature to germinate, and in winter we always use a germination mat on all seeds started indoors.
Once the tray is filled we set them on our seeding rack. We fill the bottom tray with unfertilized water about half way. If you are using a container like tupperware just add a small amount of water to your container so as not to disturb your seeds. Some trays go under light if they contain seeds that need light to germinate (like celosia). Others go on a unlighted shelf. Once the seeds germinate and get about 1/2" tall we remove the plastic wrap and put them under lights while always keeping the bottom 1/4" of the insert tray in water. You want the plant as close to the light as possible without touching the lights. We just use shop lights you can get at the home improvement store and put one white fluorescent bulb and one warm fluorescent bulb in them. They make all sort of fancy bulbs, and lighting systems for seedlings, but this way works fine for us. Once the seedlings create their first true leaves, generally the second set of leaves, you can use 1/4 strength liquid fertilizer in the water you put in the solid tray.
As your seedlings get bigger you want to reduce the level of water as the seedling will create deeper roots while seeking out a water source. If you water is too high in your solid tray the roots will not go down very far. On the flip side do not let your trays dry out as this spells certain doom for your seedlings. Once our seedlings are about 2" to 4" they are ready to transplant. The most important step of seeding from trays is hardening off. If you take your seedling from artificial lighting and immediately plant them outside in direct sunlight all day they will probably die. You need to slowly introduce them to sunlight, and temperature variations, slowly over a few days. We start with a couple hours of morning sun for a day or so and then build up to a full day in the sun by the end of five days before transplanting. Depending on the insert size we use a kitchen butter knife to help the seedling out of the tray. Once in your garden bed be sure and water so your soil makes good contact with the seedling roots.