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Seed Starting Choices

Posted January 11th, 2008 by Nick Fraser in

SeedlingsWith all of the advantages from starting beautiful gardens from seed it is no wonder that more gardeners are using seeds to start plants. There is something inherently satisfying about facilitating the miracle of nature that occurs when a plant is born from seed. This article contains all the information necessary to select the right location and supplies for this fun and exciting gardening task.

Selecting a Seed Starting Location

The first consideration is to select a good location for seed propagation. The following factors should be considered:

Amount and Intensity of Exposure to Light – Once the seeds have germinated, the sprouts of most plant varieties need medium to high light in order to develop properly. If the light is too low the sprouts will become lanky which produces weak plants. Some gardeners prefer to start their seeds in a garage, greenhouse or other inside area with an artificial light source. The best alternative is to start your seeds in a greenhouse. Most greenhouses can provide ample, but slightly filtered light that is ideal for seed starting. In hot climates direct sunlight may be too intense for some seed starts to handle until the plants get their second set of leaves.

Exposure to the Elements – Seeds and young plants are particularly susceptible to damage from the environment. This includes damage caused by rodents, birds and pests as well as inclement weather. Because of this it is generally best to find a sheltered area, or start the seeds indoors. Greenhouse enthusiasts have an advantage here as well.

Temperature and Humidity – Most seeds germinate when the soil temperature is between 68 and 86°F. Depending on the soil temperature where seeds are germinated it may be advantageous to use an inexpensive soil heating cable or electric seed warming trays for starting seeds. Seeds need moist soil to germinate and the young seedlings benefit from humid conditions. Many seed starting trays come with a plastic lid that works as a mini greenhouse for seed starts.

Methods to Consider for Starting From Seed

Direct seed method – Many seeds can be sowed directly in the garden or containers, and in some instances this may be a viable choice. One problem is that seeds and small plants are much more susceptible to falling victim to pests and predators than even two or three week old transplants. In many areas the birds or rodents will dig up seeds and have a feast before the seeds even get a chance to sprout. It may be more difficult to care for and propagate young plants in your garden because seeds and sprouts must be kept moist and not be allowed to dry out. Another disadvantage is that there will always be some seeds that don’t make it to becoming viable plants. For uniform plant spacing in the garden it may be easier to use transplants that have already been selected as strong prospects. For these reasons and others, a general recommendation is to germinate seeds before transplanting into the garden or containers.

Using Professional Seed Starting Trays – Some gardeners prefer to start many seeds at a time in professional seed starting trays which are a plastic tray with separate compartments for each plant and a drip pan. With this method as many as three dozen seeds can be started in one try and then the weak ones can be weeded out while getting the sprouts off to a great start before planting them in the garden where they will face harsher elements and predators. With this method it is important to use a potting mix that is specifically designed for starting seeds. These mixes are finer than even premium potting mixes and contain all the nutrition that seedlings will need to make it through their first two or three weeks. This method is certainly acceptable, but it too has some draw backs. There is a chance, even with careful transplanting, that the plants will sustain damage to the root system which will stress the young transplant. It is for this reason that the following method may just be the best one available.

Starting with Peat Pots or Pellets – Peat pots are small pots that are made of pressed peat moss. They can be filled with seed starting mix and planted in the garden when transplants are ready. There is however, an even easier alternative. Peat pellets are an ingenious innovation that consists of a compressed peat wafer inside a biodegradable mesh case. When the pellet is soaked in water it swells to five times its size and makes the ideal seed starting medium. A seed or two is simply pushed into the top of each soaked pellet and they are placed in the selected germinating location and kept moist until germination has occurred. The pellets can even be bought with plastic trays that have clear lids and act as mini greenhouses for sprouting seeds. With these lids generally it is not even necessary to add additional water to the pellets until after the seeds sprout. Once the seeds sprout the lid is removed and sprouts are watered and grown in the trays until they form their second set of real leaves, generally two to three weeks. Then the biodegradable bags with healthy young plants can be planted in the desired garden location.

Choose a good location, select from among the alternative starting mediums and have fun starting your garden from seed this season. You will be glad you did!

Nick Fraser is a free-lance writer.

Want more information? Read these articles:

Choosing the Correct Seeds

Germinating Seeds Indoors & Seedling Care

Propagating Plants from Seeds

Starting Seeds in Winter

The Advantage of Pelleted Seeds

What’s so Great About Heirloom Seeds?

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