Seed Starting For Beginning Gardeners – 5 Steps to Success

Seed Starting For Beginning Gardeners – 5 Steps to Success

Aah…the joys of gardening! What could be more satisfying than planning and tending to your own garden that, with devotion and care, will reward you with a harvest of vegetables, fruit, flowers or budding plants! If you are an experienced gardener, then you’ll know what I mean. And if this is your first time digging in the dirt, get ready to experience the pleasure of gardening from seed. Even if you don’t fancy yourself a ‘green thumb,’ it’s not that hard–and you can do it!

1. Plan For Success

Before you run out to buy bags of soil, packets of seeds, and gardening tools, be sure to ask yourself all the “right” questions: What do you want to plant? Will you prepare a garden plot? How large? How much sunlight will your garden receive each day? Will you be able to easily access your plants in order to water them? Planning and organizing a garden isn’t difficult you’ll want to take as much guesswork out of the process as possible. Just like a food recipe, a garden recipe requires that you follow all the right steps at the right times in order to grow success.

2. Get the Right Seeds

There are an enormous variety of seeds — from new hybrids to rare heirloom varieties — from which to choose. It doesn’t really matter whether you find them online, in catalogs or at garden nurseries but visiting a local nursery will give you an opportunity to ask questions of the experts …and also to see what they’re growing. Before deciding on your seeds, remember that you’ll be moving your seedlings from small containers to larger pots or planters as they grow, so you’re going to want to make sure you have the space. Once you’re ready to go, starting your garden is easy and requires little more than soil, seeds, water and some patience. If you’re growing your plants outdoors, then you’ll want to make sure that they adjust well to the climate in your area. (It’s no accident that oranges, for example, tend grow in hot, arid climates like Florida and sunny California!) Again, do your homework online, or visit a local garden nursery to ask for advice.

3. Know When to Start Your Seeds

You can start your seeds almost anytime, even in the winter before warmer weather arrives. If you’re starting your seeds indoors, they will require a bit more diligence since you can’t rely on rain and sun to do the work for you, and your seedlings will need the right nutrients to get off to a good start. For outdoor growing, it is essential that you find out the last expected frost date, which is the last date on which a cold frost can be expected in your climate zone (refer to the Plant Hardiness Zone Map available on the US Department of Agriculture’s website.) Simply check the seed packet for instructions and guidance to see how many week’s growth are required before you can plant your seedlings outdoors. Count back the number of weeks from your last expected frost date, and you should be ‘good-to-go’. (Note that predicting the weather has never been an exact science and an unexpected frost occurring after the last forecast date is still possible). Different plants grow at different rates and times, so it’s best to consult your calendar to figure the best time to start.

4. Know How to Start Your Seeds

Planting the seeds is fun and easy. Simply follow the instructions on the back of the seed packet, taking into consideration any special instructions such as covering the seeds lightly, or not at all. Your seed packet will provide planting and horticultural information including such as planting depth, row spacing, seed spacing, days to germination, ideal germination temperatures and estimated days to maturity, and so on. Some seeds are sown directly in the garden as recommended on the the seed packet whereas others are best started in containers using a good-quality, fine-textured, sterile soil-less mix. Large seeds can go directly into containers or pots. Remember that not every seed will germinate or provide a strong seedling, so sow more seeds than you expect to keep. As they begin to sprout, thin the grouping by removing the weaker, less sturdy-looking plants. For smaller seeds, sow them in small trays or flats to start. You may find that some seeds, like those of parsley or violas, are so small that they’re difficult to sow, but the following process should make it easier:

Fill a small nursery pot or container with loose, fast-draining potting soil
In a small, Ziploc bag, mix your seeds with a small amount of fine sand, then shake well.
Fold a small piece of paper in half and sprinkle a small portion of the seed-sand mixture into the crease.
Lightly tap the paper over soil to distribute the seeds.
Mist lightly with water from a spray bottle.
Once your seedlings begin to germinate, lift them carefully from their containers and plant them individually into tray receptacles or pots. They will grow best if you do this while they are very young. You can then get your transplants progressively accustomed to the outdoor temperatures by placing them outside for limited periods of time on warmer days. This process is called “hardening” and it helps your transplants adjust to the transition from indoors to outdoors.

5. Learn How to Care For Your Seeds

Light.  For nearly all plants, the magic ingredients are sunlight and water. Good light is the critical to the health of your plants, yet it is most often overlooked. Most gardeners who start their seeds indoors do so with the intent of moving them outdoors once the weather permits. And while it is possible to start seeds indoors, provided that they have access to a full day (at least 8 hours) of bright light, most gardeners will need to supplement their seedling lighting with special plant or grow lights that simulate the full spectrum of the sun. Even then, the lights will need to be left on for 12 – 15 hours per day, for your seedlings to grow as strong and healthy as they would in sunlight.

Water. The most common mistake made by the notice gardener is in over- or underwatering their plants. While different seeds and plants can require very different amounts of moisture to maintain proper health, a good rule-of-thumb is to keep the soil mildly damp to the touch. Again, the specific moisture requirements will be provided on the seed packet.

Have fun and enjoy the process! If you make mistakes, don’t worry about it. Everyone starts at the beginning, and the more mistakes you make, the more you’ll learn and become a better gardener. 

Visit the Gardening Seeds Guide [] for more interesting and informative articles on gardening seeds and gardening issues.

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