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Seed Starting Questions–Answered

by Fern on April 3, 2011

in Community Garden,Fruits & Vegetables

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We’re going to turn our Community Container Garden eye towards containers tomorrow, but I wanted to take a second to answer some common–and not so common–seed starting questions. How are your seedlings doing?

My seeds never germinated, what happened?

Are you using fresh seeds? If your seeds are more than a year old, they are probably no longer viable. If you collected them yourself, you may have inadvertantly collected “fluff” instead of actual seeds, or you may have harvested them too early.

If you used new seeds that you purchased from a reliable source, then you may not have kept them warm enough (most seeds need to be kept between 70-80 degrees to germinate). Or, you might have let them dry out. You need to keep seeds evenly moist for them to germinate.

Why can’t I just plant the seeds at any point and let the seed decide when it is safe/appropriate for it to come up?

Well, if you sow them in fall, they might very well germinate at the appropriate time. But if you want to get a jump start on the season, you need to start them inside, so that they can take advantage of the warmth inside your home that doesn’t exist outside. By the time your outdoor temperatures are warm enough for seeds to germinate, your indoor seeds will have been growing for four weeks or more. Starting seeds indoors improves your germination rates as well, since you can control all aspects of their environment.

Why do I need to know WHEN to plant the seed?

Regardless of what you read on the internet about growing plants indoors, it is almost impossible to have healthy, vigorous full-sun plants growing indoors without supplemental lights. By starting a few weeks before temperatures outside are warm enough for your seedlings, you’ll be balancing the benefits of starting seeds indoors with the benefits of giving them full access to sunlight outdoors.

How do I know when to plant the seed?

Seed packets will tell you how much before your last frost date you should sow the seeds indoors. You can find out what your last frost date is by entering your zipcode here.

What are some tips for starting heirloom peppers from seed?

First, be sure to use good quality seed. If you’re having a hard time getting them to germinate, try increasing the temperature by using a seed starting heating pad underneath the seed tray. Be sure that the soil stays moist but not soggy.

Do I need “Grow Lights” to start my seeds indoors?

If you are starting seeds that will eventually be moved outdoors after the plants are a few weeks old, then you can use a cool fluorescent light bulb, even a CFL. If you want a plant to flower and make fruit indoors, you will need a special grow light that has a larger spectrum of light.

A couple of days after germinating, my seedlings flopped over and died, what happened?

It sounds like your seedlings have succumbed to what is called “damping off.” Damping off is caused by bacteria that cause the seedling’s stem to appear pinched right at the soil line. The seedling falls over and dies. The best way to avoid this problem is to use soil specially marked for seed starting, to use new or sterilized trays, and to not over water your seedlings.

I’ve been wondering if other gardeners cut off the first leaf when the true leaves come out?

I never have, and I don’t see what benefit doing this provides?

My seedlings are leggy and are not getting dark green, what am I doing wrong?

It sounds like you’re not providing enough light. Seedlings need a very bright light source that is an inch or two away from the top of the seedling.

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