How to Start Seeds: Advice from Experienced Gardeners
After a lot of mistakes in my first year of planting my own vegetable garden, I decided to consult with some experienced gardeners this year before starting any seeds. How to start seeds has been a bit of a puzzle to me, likely because I’ve been on Pinterest too much and got confused by all the different information I was getting. So here’s some advice on how to start seeds from 2 experienced gardeners I know here in Edmonton.
1. How do you start your seeds indoors? I’ve heard of people using egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, newspaper cups, juice cartons, egg shells etc, as well as transparent plastic containers to simulate “greenhouses”. What do you find works best for you?
A: I use seed starter trays with clear plastic domes for germination. I use a nice light potting mix and keep it evenly moist, not soggy, until germination occurs. Once the seeds germinate I remove the domes so that damping off does not occur.
B: Use anything that works for you. I’ve tried pretty much everything you listed and still prefer the plug trays mainly used in greenhouses. The clear dome is only meant for maintaining humidity during germination. They should come off as soon as seeds germinate. All the things you listed can save money, but they each have their weakness. Things like yogurt cups need to have holes punched in the bottom so plants don’t drown. Newspaper cups work ok short term, but fall apart if you grow the seedlings longer. Plant roots also need to breathe, and newspaper cups all stuffed together in a tray doesn’t leave much room to breathe. I still find plug trays easiest to use because I’m short on time. I use soil less mix like SunGro Sunshine Mix or Pro Mix. They hold moisture but are still fluffy enough for healthy root growth. I reuse my old plug trays from the greenhouse. You can find Seedling Starter Trays at All Season Garden Center off Whyte in Edmonton (most hydroponic shops and some greenhouses also carry them). I just rinse them with hot bleach solution before I start seedlings again.
2. When do you usually transplant outdoors?
A: Lois Hole’s gardening books estimate an approximate last frost in Edmonton of May 7th. I usually monitor the long term forecast starting around that date and may start to transplant hardier seedlings any time after that. For those that are very frost sensitive, or very small seedlings, I tend to wait until the May long weekend.
B: I usually transplant as soon as night time temperatures stay warm. But it depends on what you grow. Some plants take cool nights better than others. I save some to plant later in case there is a late spring frost.
3. How do you support your seedlings when they grow tall but are very thin and spindly? (e.g. skewer sticks and twist ties?)
A: I don’t tend to have this issue as the temperature variation in my greenhouse (average daytime temperature is around 15 to 25 degrees Celsius and nighttime temperature can be as low as 5), as well as the high amount of sunlight they receive, tends to keep seedlings fairly compact. I have had this happen when starting vines, and have supported them with popsicle sticks and very loosely tied twist ties.
B: Try to find a cool bright spot for seedlings. Elongated seedlings means either that the temperature is too warm or there is not enough light. Blue light also keeps plants short (incandescent bulbs are not good for seedlings). Anything can work to hold plants up, BBQ skewers are ok but I usually find them too weak. If you trim any shrubs in the yard and they are straight and long enough, there’s nothing wrong in using that. If it’s tomatoes, it’s not the end of the world if they get too tall. Dig a deep hole and plant as deep as possible/reasonable. The stem will actually root out and grow a healthier sizable root. Cabbages, kale, etc, not so much – so still better to keep plants short if possible.
My experts reiterated to me that you have to find out what works for you! I hope their advice provided some enlightenment – I sure learned a lot!
What is your best tip for starting seeds?
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The compost I use to plant my seeds is so dry, I have trouble getting it to absorb the water, then find I am flooding the seeds. Very frustrating.
Have you tried using a seed starter mix instead? I believe they are designed to absorb the water better so that you’re not running into that problem. I put compost on my seedlings when I’m getting them into the ground.
Thanks for getting back to me, I used one for seeds and cuttings. I live in France and I just can’t seem to find a good one. I never had any problems when I lived in the UK. The water just floats on top, I tried sitting the pots in water to try to get it to soak up that way but it was just as bad. I think I will just have to try a few different brands.
Argh, that is super frustrating!! I wonder if there are any local gardening groups in your area that might be able to help recommend a good one?
I do not know if this might help you but what I have found works best and can be reused are mason jars. What I do is get the pod and soak it in the water until it is super moist then I put the seed in and place the pod on the inside of the top of the jar and twist the glass on top until it is secure. This works as my green house and when the seed develops I simply plant it in a pot or the ground. Whola!
Whoa. You just blew my mind. Mason jar greenhouse!!! Genius!
Only question for you is – what is the “pod” you are referring to?