Get a head start on spring with the plants you want.
Apart from all the weed growers in Colorado, do any of you grow plants from seed? It seems like fewer people do nowadays, preferring to buy young plants at the garden center. Sure, it’s less trouble, but it’s also less rewarding. For one thing, you’re stuck with the plants sitting there on the nursery bench. Maybe you can’t find that old-timey treasure or latest-and-greatest plant you’re salivating over. Too, nothing beats the sight of seedlings you planted popping up from the soil. Just ask the guys in Colorado.
But unless you live in a frost-free area, you’re going to have to start seeds indoors now. Here are some things you’ll need to avoid catastrophic failure and subsequent ridicule from the Mountain State.
New seeds give you the highest germination rate. You can choose from many excellent online seed suppliers for seeds of annuals, perennials, herbs, vegetables, heirloom varieties, and organic varieties, including Baker Creek, Burpee, and Renee’s Garden, but my longtime favorite is Johnny’s. The catalog is beautiful, they offer incredible variety, their seed is non-GMO, and their service is excellent. Plus, they carry many of the following supplies you may need to start seeds.
Don’t use old potting soil that plants have grown in before. (Throw it in the compost.) It may contain insect eggs and disease spores. Same thing goes for soil from your garden. Use only new, bagged, name-brand potting soil that’s formulated for starting seeds. It’s sterile and will hold the right amount of moisture. Some brands even contain a little fertilizer to get seedlings off to a good start.
Aim for an air temperature around 65 degrees. If you’re ambitious or just impatient, you can speed germination by using an electric heating mat.
Depending on how many plants you’re starting, you can use small paper cups, peat pots, or plastic flats and cell-packs. Don’t use old clay pots unless you first scrub them thoroughly to remove mold and deposits of fertilizer salts (the latter look powdery and can damage roots).
Once seedlings germinate, they need bright light or they’ll stretch and get leggy. Place them close to south-facing window, because this direction gets light practically all day. Plants will lean towards the light, so give the pots or flats a 180-degree turn every morning. If you don’t have a bright, south-facing window, you’ll need a special grow-light that emits light in the wavelengths plants need.
WATCH: How To Start Seeds In Eggshells
Once seedlings sprout, evenly moist soil is a must. If the soil dries out even for an hour or two, the seedlings will die. On the other hand, keeping the soil too wet fosters the growth of a fungus called damping-off. It looks like a cottony web spreading over the soil and kills seedlings in hours. Using a moisture-control potting soil helps prevent overwatering and damping-off. So does good air circulation.
Go easy on this. Remember, some potting soils already contain fertilizer and little plants don’t need much. After their first true leaves grow from between the two smooth-edged seed leaves, mix a water-soluble fertilizer, such as Miracle-Gro, to half-strength. Apply it about every 10 days.
If you want to buy everything you need all at once (except for the grow light and fertilizer), invest in an inexpensive seed-starting kit. Before long, you’ll be humming “Rocky Mountain High.”