7 Tips for Successful Seed Starting

As we approach the end of February, many of us are getting garden fever!  Here are 7 tips if you are planning to start any of your seeds indoors:

1. Don’t start too early!!  

As excitement brews, fight the urge to start seeds too early.  I always recommend following the instructions on your seed packet as there may be variety specific cultivation instructions provided by the seed company.  If a seed packet says “Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost,” I would begin sowing my seeds indoors around the beginning of April–assuming Belgrade, MT has an average last frost date of June 6th and that was the date that I wanted to plant the seedlings outside.  Starting seeds too early may result in laggy, spindly growth.  Laggy plants will not have very good vigor and in turn do not produce well. 


2. Use supplemental light

Supplemental light is necessary for most plants to produce robust growth.  Without sufficient light, plants will search for more light by elongating their stem.  Again, this can result in spindly, laggy plants that do not produce well.  For most seedlings, a T5/ fluorescent fixture near a window will provide sufficient growth.  There are LED options available that are suitable to seed starting but be prepared to pay a bit more for LED fixtures.  Check out our article “Indoor Lighting Basics” if you’re new to growing seedlings under lights and “What fixture do I choose” to help you make a decision on what kind of fixture will work best in your situation.


3. Label everything!!

Write down the name of the plant you’re growing, the variety it is and the date you planted it!  While plants can be identified after the seedling sprouts from the soil, you may want to write down the variety name, especially when growing several varieties of the same plant. Sometimes it can also be helpful to write down the date that you planted the seed, when it emerged from the soil and when it had its first true leaves in order to track growth progress.


4. Use heat mats for hard to germinate plants and/or if your growing area is chilly

Many gardeners start plants in their garage or basement under supplemental lights.  If the temperature is not near 70 degrees (for most plants) you may have a hard time getting seeds to germinate.  A heat mat helps to raise the soil temperature and encourage seedlings to germinate.  Heat mats are particularly helpful to peppers, tomatoes, basil and any other heat loving plant.  


5. Starter Fertilizer

Seedlings started indoors and maintained indoors for longer than a month’s time may require fertilization to keep them healthy and growing.  Using a product labeled as ‘Starter Fertilizer’ that has a moderate potency and beneficial microorganisms to encourage new growth without being too harsh will encourage your seedlings to continue to grow until they are planted outdoors.  Without any fertilization plants may ‘stall out’ and discontinue any new growth.


6. Airflow & Drainage

Make sure that your containers have drainage and that your plants are not sitting in standing water for extended periods of time. Excess watering can result in root rot or other plant diseases.  Additionally, providing some airflow is important to help the plants gain strength and keep the surface of the soil at the appropriate moisture level.


7. Patience 

Gardening can be a test of patience.  Remember that all good things take time.


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