Starting plants indoors is a time-honored way to kick off the growing season. It’s also a fun and rewarding project that you can do with whatever supplies you have on hand.
There are a few tips you need to keep in mind when starting seeds indoors, so they’ll thrive and grow strong before you plant them outdoors.
1. Use a Seed Starting Tray
Starting plants indoors is a great way to get them ready for the garden. It can also protect some seedlings from harsh weather conditions and help them adjust to life outdoors.
A good seed starting tray should be a durable container that holds water and soil without leaks. It should have proper drainage and be easy to clean.
Many trays come with clear plastic domes or covers that make it easier to regulate moisture. Some also come with grow lights to keep the seedlings warm and protected during the germination and growth stages.
When choosing a seed starting tray, you’ll want to consider the size and number of ‘cells’ it can hold. The more cells a tray can hold, the shorter the time it will take before your seedlings outgrow the tray and need to be transplanted into larger containers.
2. Make Sure Your Soil is Moisture-Retentive
It’s important to keep your soil moist but not too wet, otherwise it can lead to root rot and wilted plants. This can be easily prevented by choosing a good quality soil mix that is moisture-resistant and has good drainage properties.
Soil consists of a blend of different particle types, including sand, clay and silt. This texture affects how well the soil holds water, as well as how quickly it absorbs and loses it.
The best mix for a plant’s needs is called “loam.” This ideal soil texture contains a combination of sand, clay and silt, as well as some organic material that adds nutrients to the soil. Loam soil is the perfect mix for most vegetables.
3. Keep Your Seedlings Well Watered
The key to keeping your seedlings healthy is giving them the right amount of water. If they don’t get enough, they can dry out, rot, or die.
You can do this in a variety of ways. One is called top watering, which involves spraying the seedlings from above using a weak mister or spray bottle.
Another is bottom watering, which uses a self-watering pot or tray. You fill the flat tray with water so that about a quarter inch of the bottom is covered with water.
Both of these methods require you to check on your seedlings a few times a day to ensure they’re still well-watered. You can also use a humidity dome until they sprout to keep their soil as moist as possible.
4. Keep The Temperature In Check
Keeping the temperature in check is an integral part of successfully starting plants indoors. Most seed packets will have a little germination guide and some guidance on optimum temperatures for their particular plant. A few special heat mats (heat pads) are available in various sizes to keep your seedlings at the perfect temperature.
The proper temperature for most cool-season vegetables and a few flowers should be no higher than 55 degrees F during the day, and 45 or so at night. Depending on the crop, this may mean using some clever hygienic methods, such as a screened patio for your tender crops or a sunny spot in a cool basement for your annuals. For best results, plan on about eight weeks of frost free gardening in your area.
5. Add Some Light
Without adequate light, seedlings can become lanky and weak (known as getting “leggy”) or they could flopple over or break. They also often fail to produce strong stems that are necessary for healthy growth and development.
A plant’s light requirements vary depending on its native growing conditions. If you live in a home with plenty of natural light, a supplemental grow light may not be needed. However, if you live in an area with less natural light, such as a basement or bedroom, a higher intensity grow light is recommended. Ideally, you should hang the lights about 2-inches above your plants so they don’t burn their leaves. Adjust the light as your plants grow, and watch for signs that they’re receiving too much or not enough light.