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How to start your own seedling | In Your Backyard

From the Ground Up | Questions or comments? Contact columnist Pam Tempelmayr at whalebonestudio@embarqmail.com. - File photo
From the Ground Up | Questions or comments? Contact columnist Pam Tempelmayr at whalebonestudio@embarqmail.com.
— image credit: File photo

Though starting your own seedlings can be rewarding, it takes lots of time. Once seedlings are started they need daily care. If you are short of time or away frequently the latter is for you. Seedlings also take up indoor space protected from animals and small children. This year you may want to buy bedding or mature plants from a commercial grower. This isn’t considered cheating and guarantees results.

If you are going to start seeds, the first thing you want to do is check the gestation times on your seed packages. Count back from the date of your last expected frost. This will give you a planting date. Gestation is usually a six- to eight-week period, each plant is on its own schedule. Starting your seedlings too early results in long stringy weak plants.

Start out with clean flats and pots. Containers that have been used before should be thoroughly washed then soaked for a minimum of five minutes in a solution of bleach and hot water (3 tbsp. bleach to 34 ounces water) followed by a good rinse. You can make flats out of all sorts of containers: styrofoam cups, yogurt and ice-cream pails, old cake pans, just make sure they have proper drainage holes; if you buy commercial flats, check, they don’t all have holes. Plants that don’t like to be transplanted (cucumbers, squash, melons, corn, etc.) do best if planted in individual pots, preferably made of peat. Different brands of peat pellets (discs about three times the size of a loonie, when you add water they swell to be little pre-fertilized pots about 2 or 3 inches high). Some of these have a net holding them together which doesn’t disintegrate as fast as it should so gently cut it away with an Exacto knife before transplanting outside.

The best medium is commercially mixed seed starter. Soil that is too rich causes seeds to grow too fast, becoming tall and stringy. Many mixes harden and don’t allow proper growth, special mixes stay loose and pliable.

Light is important. Six hours every day will give your seeds the start they need. Don’t put your seeds under lights that radiate heat (like a regular light bulb) or directly in the full sun. This dries your plant base out quickly and scorches the delicate starts. If setting up your own grow lights, use a white fluorescent. If your seeds need heat to germinate (germination temperatures are listed on the seed packets) it’s best done from beneath.

The following method of planting cuts back on watering. Ironically, the first step is to water your flats or pots before planting the seeds and drain off any excess moisture. (Check your package for depth; most seeds, especially some annual flowers, barely need covering.) Next, take a clear plastic bag or plastic wrap and cover your containers. Heat will be generated during this process, causing “rain” to fall on your seedlings. Keep them moist and warm this way until they germinate. Watch that they don’t ever dry out or get too wet. When the second set of leaves (true leaves) form, it’s time to remove the plastic. If you’ve been heating the soil, discontinue at this point. WU

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