Spring fever stirs the gardening soul, often before you can actually get outside. Why not trade garden center transplants for homegrown seedlings this spring? It’s not as hard as you think and growing plants from seed to maturity is one of gardening’s most rewarding experiences. And there are some other good reasons as well:
- Better selection. Garden centers and nursery catalogs offer a much greater variety of plants as seeds as opposed to transplants. You’ll be able to choose from a broader selection of herbs, vegetables and flowers. And, you’ll find flavors and colors you might not even thought about.
- It's simple. Germinating seeds is a snap – they're whole job in life is to sprout. Young seedlings need some extra care but it not all that difficult.
- Save money. What you pay per plant drops dramatically when you grow from seeds.
- Seeds satisfy the gardening itch. Sowing seeds can ease spring fever, especially if snow is still swirling outside.
- Reap earlier harvests. If you try some season-extending tricks, you'll be able to plant seedlings in the ground sooner, before local nurseries might carry transplants. Earlier planting also means earlier harvest or bloom.
Whenever you are planting from seed, pay careful attention to planting depth. Some seeds need light to germinate; others demand complete darkness and a very specific planting depth. Carefully follow the instructions you’ll find on seed packets. Germination usually requires warm soil: 65-75°F. Start seeds in a warm spot, such as in a sunny window or use a specialized heating mat.
Plan to pamper your seedlings. They require special care to develop them into healthy transplant that are ready to go outside. They are very finicky about watering – you can't miss a day or they'll die. Overwatering will result in similar results. If you plan to travel, find someone to water for you while you are gone or wait until you get back before planting.
Seedlings demand strong light (stronger than most windows provide in the northern two-thirds of the country), and can easily succumb to disease without proper watering and good air circulation. For more information, go to 10 Steps For Growing Plants From Seed.
As seedlings are ready to be moved outdoors, they have to be hardened off – gradually acclimated to outdoor growing conditions. For step-by-step instructions on hardening off seedlings, click here.
If this is your first time growing plants from seed, don’t get overwhelmed. Start small – raise only a few seeds and start plants that germinate easily like sunflowers or tomatoes. As seedlings grow, so will your experience and confidence.
Time it perfectly.
Don’t plant too soon or too late. Most seedlings are ready to move outside four to eight weeks after planting. Plant too early, and you'll have to hold plants indoors, which can lead to lanky seedlings. Plant too late, and plants may not mature properly.
To calculate planting dates, begin by determining the average frost date for your area. Your local cooperative extension service is the best place to start. They can provide frost dates and recommended planting dates for most plants. You may be able to help from experienced gardeners in your area or from a local garden center.
Once you have the frost dates, check the seed packet. It will say something like, "Start seeds 6-8 weeks before last frost date." for spring planting. If so, count backwards 6-8 weeks from the last frost date and sow your seeds. If you are planting in fall, seed packets will tell you how long to plant before the first frost date and you can make a similar calculation, only in reverse.
If you want to get a jump on planting season, you probably need to protect your plantings from frost. For help, click here: Protecting Plants From Cold.