The basics of starting seedlings are pretty easy to grasp. Really all you need is a container, some soil, and a light! (This post originally appeared as a guest post on Bakerette.com)
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Every gardener at some point decides to start growing their own seedlings. It was the same for us. As the years went on and we got better and better at gardening our aspirations got bigger. We wanted our flower beds to look nicer and we had varieties of tomatoes and other veggies that we wanted to try. Those new veggie varieties were not available at the local nurseries so we had to grow them ourselves. That’s when we began starting seedlings indoors.
It also started to become a financial need. If you go through the list of veggies and flowers that we plant in our garden every year from seedlings the list gets pretty long. For our little ¼ acre lot this year we will need right around 450 flowers and veggie starts. That can get pretty pricey, in fact, there is no way we would shell out all that money so it’s a good thing I learned the basics of starting seedlings.
The 3 Things you need for starting seedlings
There are a lot of complicated methods for starting seedlings. Really all the different methods come down to just 3 simple things (besides seeds of course). You need a container, some soil and a light! That’s it really, all the other things like heat mats, timers, soil blocks, peat pots, etc can help but all you really need is a container, soil, and light.
The most important thing to remember when choosing a container for starting seedlings is that it needs to have the ability to get rid of excess water. So basically it needs some holes in it. Seedlings don’t like to be sitting in soaking wet soil. So when you water your seedlings any extra water needs to be able to drain off.
I love using the little 4 and 6 cell plastic packs that you can buy at most garden supply stores. Or even better ask all your neighbors to save the ones they get when they buy nursery plants. These little cell packs are about the perfect size for nearly every seedling I grow, from flowers to veggies. I do like to plant my tomatoes in a slightly larger 3-inch pot but everything else goes in these beauties!
But having said that I’m by no means implying that my method is the only one! In the past, I have used yogurt cups, cottage cheese containers, peat pellets, peat pots, clay pots, and even tin cans all with success. The important part is that they have a way to drain off any excess water that doesn’t soak into the soil.
The easiest way to get started growing your own seedlings is to just buy a good quality seedling mix from your local garden store. I prefer to grow all my veggie plants in a nice store-bought organic mix (I’m a little less fussy about an organic mix when I’m growing ornamental flowers but I usually use the organic mix anyway). Look for a mix that is mostly peat moss with just a little compost and some perlite or vermiculite. I also try to use a mix that is sterile because those mixes tend to prevent the fungal infection “dampening off”.
If you are feeling adventurous (and you have space) you can make your own seedling mix. A simple recipe for a homemade mix is :
4 parts peat moss
2 parts compost
1 part vermiculite
½ part perlite
Just mix the amount you need together in a big tub and away you go.
Whether you are using a store-bought mix or a homemade mix be sure to dampen it before you get started filling containers and planting seeds.
In order to be successful at starting seedlings, I think you need a nice 2 bulb fluorescent light. Some people start their seedlings in a sunny window, but I’ve always been disappointed with the results of window started seedlings. Instead, run to your local home improvement store and buy a simple 2 bulb “shop light”. They usually cost around $25 including bulbs. Don’t bother buying expensive grow light bulbs. Instead just get a couple of cool white fluorescent bulbs and you will be good.
The more lights you have the more seedlings you can grow. So if you have space to hang 2 shop lights side by side you can get more seedlings going. Or if you are crazy like me and grow a million starts a year then you can have 4 or more lights.
The important part of lighting is that you need to have the ability to get the lights very close (within an inch) to your seedlings. And then you need to be able to adjust those lights up and down. Keep the light about 1 inch from the tops of the seedlings as they grow. So find a spot where you can hang the light with an adjustable chain or rope.
Putting it all together
Now fill your container with moist soil, plant your seeds and get them right under the lights. Be sure to keep the soil moist but not soaking wet. I usually use a spray bottle full of water to keep the surface of the soil moist until the seedlings get up and established. It can also be very helpful to put a little plastic wrap over the top of the soil until the seedlings germinate. Then water the plants about every 2 or 3 days as they grow. Keep that light about 1 inch from the tops of the plants. In 6 to 8 weeks your seedlings will be ready for the garden! These rules apply to most veggies and flowers. Take a look at your seed packages before planting to be sure your seeds don’t need any special treatment.
That’s how to get going on starting seedlings. Now there can be a lot more to it if you really want to have fun with it. You can use tons of different specialized containers, heat mats, timers, homemade mixes and more. If you would like to learn more about seed starting I would like to invite you to take my seed starting video course. The course is a little more than 2 hours worth of information on seed starting broken into nice bite-size segments.
To learn more about this course you can follow this link. While you are there you can sign up for the Online Gardening School and I will let you know the next time the full course is open for new students.