Seed starting tips

Many gardeners buy plants ready to go in the garden. Others like to start their plants from seed. The advantage of starting plants from seeds is that gardeners have access to a much wider range of plant varieties than they do when they buy plants. For example, seed catalogs offer hundreds of varieties of tomatoes. If you buy local plants likely your choices are limited to 20 varieties or even fewer.

But getting good, sturdy transplants from    grown-at-home seedlings is a challenge. Here are some tips from UK’s publication “Starting Plants from Seed at Home.” (If you would like the whole publication, call us, 633-4593, or email walt.reichert@uky.edu. We can send it electronically or by mail.)

Start with good dirt. Well, not dirt, really, potting soil. Don’t use garden dirt; it’s too heavy and may contain disease organisms. Use a potting mix that is well-drained and sterile.

Choose proper containers. Containers can be bought or recycled but they should be at least 2-3 inches deep, sterile and have holes in the bottom for drainage.

Sowing seed. Dampen the germination medium before putting it in a container, fill the container within half-inch of rim and sow seed/seeds uniformly across the surface. Small seeds can be left on the surface; larger seeds can be covered with half inch of medium.

Watch the temperature. Ideal temperature varies depending upon plant, but most seeds like to  germinate at warmer temperatures than we keep our rooms. A small heating cable beneath the trays help; or put the flats on top of the water heater where the pipes can keep it warm.

Sunlight. Once germination happens, get those plants in enough light, and your windows don’t provide enough unless you have a bay window facing south. Use shoplights with fluorescent bulbs placed above the trays for adequate light.

Harden off. Before putting your babies out in the garden, let them adapt to the weather. Put them outside in a shady spot for two hours, then four hours, then six and so on until they can weather whatever spring throws at them.