Gentlemen (and Ladies) – Start Your Seeds!

Now that Valentine’s Day is over, I’m thinking it’s time for me to start some seeds for spring planting. It’s the best way to get a jump on spring and it helps to save a few bucks, always an important consideration in the McCormick home, I can tell you. I must however confess I’ve had my share of seed starting disasters. I’ve drowned some seeds and fried others. I’ve failed to lable them properly so that I had no idea at transplanting time which was which. And I’ve been a victim of the much-dreaded “damping off” disease that can strike seedlings. To increase your chances of success, let me tell you about some mistakes I’ve made and how to avoid them.

Mistake 1: Using the Wrong  Pot – There are many styles of pots and flats that can hold soil but some make watering more time consuming.  The soil in pots that are too small or crafted from porous material (peat, newspaper, cardboard) are inexpensive but will dry out quickly. I’ve had much better success using seed starting trays with a water reservoir. Refilling a water reservoir every four to five days is much better for distracted souls like me.

Mistake 2: Not Using Seed Starting Medium – Seed starting medium works better than any potting or garden soil. These special blends are light-weight and fungus-free. Seeds stay moist without getting soggy.

Mistake 3: Using Old Seeds –Check the date on your seed packages. They should say “Packed for 2013.” Old seeds may sprout but are likely to have a low germination rate (the percentage of seeds that will grow). If you sow last year’s seeds, be prepared to plant more to compensate.

Mistake 4: Ignoring Directions – Before you sow, read the seed package carefully. Watch for directions such as “don’t cover seeds,” “soak before sowing,” and “keep warm.” If you ignore these directions, don’t expect much to come up.

 Mistake 5: Poor Lighting and Air Circulation – Your home is a wonderful place for you and your family. Not so for those seedlings. Young plants need a wider spectrum of light than we see. A sunny window may look bright to your eyes but only 10-15 percent of the sun’s total illumination makes it through the glass. Compensate for the darker indoor conditions with a grow lamp, a florescent bulb designed to imitate the sun’s broad spectrum of light.

 Mistake 6: Poor Lighting and Air Circulation – Plants also need stimulation for sturdy stems. Try using a small fan to stir the air. This will discourage that nasty fungus that produces “damping off.” It will also encourage sturdy stems that won’t topple over when planted outdoors.

 Next Post: How to Plant Seeds

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