Many gardeners prefer to grow their own seedlings, and it’s easy to understand why. It’s the only way to grow exactly the varieties of flowers and vegetables you want. But that’s not the main reason! Avid gardeners find it hard to wait until the weather warms up enough to work in their own beds – that’s why they start sowing seeds on their windowsills in the winter. Growing seedlings of different crops have their subtleties and nuances. But there are some general rules, and by following them, the chances of growing a good healthy seedling are close to 100%. These will be discussed in the ThumbGarden article.
1. Preparing the soil for seedlings
Good soil is the key to producing strong, healthy seedlings and a good crop later on. Therefore, preparing the substrate for sowing seedlings should be done very carefully. Experienced gardeners prefer to prepare their own soil, although seedbeds for different crops are now readily available in Online Stores. And they are right – usually, the purchased substrates are of poor quality. Once the seed is sown, it becomes a messy substance, and of course, what about its nutritional content! In general, it is best to prepare your own seedling soil.
There are many recipes for preparing potting soil mixtures, but all of them have some general rules. The soil must be.
- Be permeable and breathable.
- Nearly neutral in acidity.
It is also very important that the prepared soil is free of insect larvae, worms, weed seeds, large plant residues, pathogens, and pesticides.
Seedling soil is usually prepared by mixing leaf and turf soil with humus or compost, river sand or vermiculite, and peat. The ratio can vary depending on the crop. Add 20-30 grams of calcium superphosphate and 1-2 cups of grass ashes per bucket of soil. But there are no hard and fast recommendations here either, as crops have different nutritional needs.
But whichever component you choose, you must sterilize the prepared soil. Due to the lack of frost, the popular method of freezing soil in the past has been discontinued in many areas. This is good news for those who oppose the harsh measures of burning and steaming, and for those who consider watering the soil with a manganese solution to be an exercise in futility.
2. The best date to sow
The correct timing of sowing will largely determine future crop yields. When seedlings are planted outdoors or in a greenhouse, they should be mature, strong, and have a strong root system. However, under no circumstances should they be allowed to grow too vigorously. Seedling development is influenced by temperature, light, soil, and nutrients, so it is a skill to keep up with the times on how to properly raise seedlings.
Experienced gardeners keep a journal and diligently record the sowing, germination, and planting dates of all their crops year after year. Although the weather surprises us every year, the “professionals” cope with this task. But beginners can be advised not to pay too much attention to the planting dates listed on the seed packets. Our climate is very diverse and varies greatly even within a region, let alone the country.
The first thing to do is to find out when seedlings are ready to be planted outdoors in your area, and then start counting from that date. Start with the planting date and subtract the age of the seedling and the number of days it took for the seed to germinate. Each crop has its own timing, but in general, the plan is this.
Let’s say tomatoes are planted at 60 days (this information can usually be found on the package), plus 5-8 days for seedling emergence. Subtract 65-68 days from the date of open field sowing to get an approximate date for planting. If for some reason, it is not possible to sow on these dates, it is better to postpone it to a later date than to sow earlier. Overgrown seedlings will add to the trouble before planting and they will not root well.
3. Prepare seeds for sowing
You can’t just sow all kinds of seeds. That is, you can, but the results of such sowing are unlikely to be pleasing. Only high-quality seeds can be expected to yield a good crop, so proceed with caution in all steps of preparing the seeds for sowing.
If we have our own seeds, and there are many, we calibrate them, i.e. we choose the largest and nicest seeds. If the seeds are very scarce and there are usually not many in the sachet you bought, then sow them all. Seeds should be sterilized before sowing.
Many gardeners still use the old-fashioned method of soaking seeds in a 1% solution of potassium permanganate. It is difficult to maintain an exact ratio, so the most common method is to dilute by eye until you get a “thick pink” water. The seeds are soaked in the solution for 30-40 minutes and then washed.
The treated seeds are spread on gauze to moisten them and kept “until they germinate”. For better germination of the seeds (especially those of poor quality or of doubtful shelf life), various stimulants are used during soaking.
The natural plant stimulants currently on the market, thanks to their content of organic acids, amino acids, growth regulators of steroidal and non-steroidal nature, as well as chitosan and glucomannan (products of hydrolytic cell lysis, unique yeast-like microorganisms), the preparation will ensure friendly germination of the seeds and eliminate the need for preliminary disinfection. Prepare a working solution (10 drops per 200 g of water) and soak the seeds for 30 minutes.
Tip: Read the information on the package carefully before soaking the seeds! Some manufacturers have done everything for us and their seeds do not need to be treated or soaked before sowing.
4. Separate methods for sowing each crop
Seeds of different crops are sown for seedlings, not only at different times but also in different ways. The details of sowing – sowing depth, seed spacing, and temperature – are usually written on the package. So here we just follow the instructions. Although shallow sowing is recommended for the smallest seeds such as petunias, it is not necessary to cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil. They need light and warmth to germinate. This is what needs to be dealt with.
Some plants, such as bougainvillea, amaryllis, bittersweet, and all types of cabbage, can be grown in a greenhouse. plants sown in a polyethylene heated bed in April will have time to grow by the time they are planted outdoors. If the weather turns cold, the greenhouse can also be covered with spunbond. This makes caring for seedlings easier and allows you to grow more plants, although it is more suitable for people who live in private homes.
When sowing seeds in boxes, in general containers, or in a greenhouse, it is important not to let the seeds grow too large. This is easy to do if the seeds are large, but not always possible if they are small. If the seedlings are too thick, they must be thinned to avoid pulling them out and causing disease. When thinning, do not pull out the excess shoots so as not to damage the roots of adjacent shoots, but cut them gently with scissors.
How many are for sale today – to satisfy all tastes! Here, too, it is not easy to give advice – some prefer peat sheets or cups, others – plastic pots with slippery bottoms, others boxes with cells. In general, try it, experiment, and choose.
Some types of plants do not like to be picked, and these can be sown in peat pellets and then planted in pots. This method will not disturb the root system. Cucumber seedlings do not like to be transplanted, so peat pots are doctor’s orders for her. The grown cucumbers are planted in cups on a bed, the walls of which allow the growing roots to pass through.
The plastic containers need to have drainage holes – excess water must drain away or the soil will become acidic and the seedlings will die. New containers, like old ones, should be washed with warm water and soap or baking soda before filling with soil.
5. Lighting – very important!
Light and heat are essential for good seedling development. Special attention should be paid to this issue. If there is not enough light, the plants do not photosynthesize well and the seedlings will become malnourished and grow poorly. These seedlings often suffer from diseases or die during harvesting and do not have the strength to take root. Therefore, it is necessary to provide additional light in order to produce healthy and vigorous seedlings. This is especially true for plants sown in January-February with short daylight hours if the seedlings must be grown on a northern windowsill.
Glow lamps, fluorescent lamps, sodium halide lamps, and ordinary incandescent lamps are often used for supplemental lighting. It is best not to use the latter, as the radiation spectrum of such bulbs is not suitable for plants and the result is elongated seedlings, often with burns.
ThumbGarden offers the best-LED plant lights precisely because of the spectrum chosen specifically for plant growth. Plants illuminated with plant lights are usually strong and do not pull out seedlings or get sick. The lights themselves are environmentally friendly, safe, and economical enough. They can be used throughout the day if necessary.
When choosing fluorescent bulbs, pay attention to the markings and give preference to LB and LTB (white and warm white) bulbs. Products marked LHB, LD and LDC should be discarded because their radiation has an inhibiting effect on seedlings.
6. Watering, feeding, stimulating
Watering must be monitored throughout the growth period. And the smaller the plant, the more disastrous the results of underwatering or overwatering. This is not good for either. It’s easy to water seedlings with a straw when they are still very small – it’s easy to water over the edge of the container without watering the seedlings.
It is impossible to tell you how often you can water your seedlings, as it depends on the temperature of the room, the humidity/dryness of the air, the size of the container, and the condition of the soil. Water your sprouts at room temperature and use soft standing water. Remove excess water from the tray, otherwise, the roots of the seedlings may rot. If the room air is dry, spraying at least once a day is recommended.
Growing seedlings actively use the nutrients in the soil and will need them. Today, you can find ready-to-use mineral and organic fertilizers for any seedling at garden centers. It’s easy – just follow the instructions. Don’t overfeed seedlings, so don’t exceed the concentration of the solution, and remember or write down the date of application.
To negate the appearance of seedling diseases, use natural growth stimulants. Monthly sprays – 10 ml per 1.3 gals (5 liters) of water will strengthen the plant, increase immunity, improve development and form a strong root system. And so that the seedlings will not notice transplanting into the clearing and will enjoy a great harvest later, soak the roots in this solution (10 drops per 200 gals of water) for 30 minutes before planting. This will make it easier for the seedlings to take root and help them to adapt easily to their new environment.
Dear reader growing healthy and strong seedlings is not that difficult. The main thing is to research the crop you want to grow and try to provide the right conditions for it. Natural growth stimulants will help your seedlings cope with minor mistakes in care and survive successfully when transplanted into the open ground.
Much has been written about seedling containers.