It is time to start considering planting seeds because after you push them into the ground, they can take about eight weeks before they are ready to be put in the ground outside. The back of your seed package tells you how many days it takes to germinate or sprout. Get your calendar out and start counting backward. Many seeds can be planted in late March and April.
Mark the date they are planted and keep track of their progress. Plant them in any container with drainage holes. Paper cups, pots, milk cartons, egg shells or even an old shoe can hold soil and moisture. You can also buy special potting cups at your favorite home and garden store. Sterilize the container to give your seeds a fresh, clean start.
What is in the soil?
Use potting mix easily found at your favorite home and garden store. The soil should stay moist, but not muddy. Mist fine seeds with a water bottle. Keep the soil moist. About 72-85 degrees is ideal. You can buy special warming mats or use a conventional heating pad turned on low. You can also hold some of the moisture in your soil by covering it with plastic wrap.
If you have tiny seeds, sprinkle them on top. Don’t bury them too deep. Many will germinate even if broadcast on the top of the soil. Press them into the soil gently to get good “seed to soil” contact, then cover with a thin layer of perlite and vermiculite. Larger seeds can just be poked down into the soil. Follow the directions carefully.
Warm and cozy
The key to quick germination is warm soil. Keep the soil between 65 and 70 degrees and you will coax them out of their shell sooner. One easy way to keep the soil warm is to wrap your container in plastic wrap. This thin insulator will not only hold in warmth, it will also hold in the moisture. Keep the soil warm until the plants have at least a first set of leaves.
Ready, set, go
In three to ten days, you should see the seedlings start to pop out of the soil. As soon as they start to germinate, they will need some light for photosynthesis. Light captured by the leaves turns into food for the plant. But they will need more than light from your window. Put them in the sun for at least 12 to 14 hours of manufactured sunrays. Grow lights with regular 75 watt bulbs will give them plenty of rays to continue growing.
Keep the light about six to eight inches away from the seedlings and move it up or the plants down as they grow. You want your seedlings to be dark green and stocky, not pale, long and leggy. Long and leggy means they need more light.
Help the air to circulate around them by blowing a fan on a very low setting. Watch out for damping off. The seedling will wilt and collapse and die right away. Usually it will take a whole area of seedlings since it is a soil-borne fungus.
Once the seedling has grown up a bit and you can see its second set of leaves, it is ready for fertilizer. Fertilize every two weeks with a balanced liquid, and feed at half the rate directed on the container. After eight weeks, it is time to send them out on their own. Slowly work them out into full sun.
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