Starting seeds indoors is a great way to jump-start your garden. Whether or not you have experience starting seeds, you will improve your success by avoiding these common errors.
Seed-Starting Mistake #1: Starting Too Soon
In many regions, sowing seeds gives you a chance to get your hands dirty when it is too cold to garden outdoors. Do not start your seeds too soon. Most plants are ready to shift into the great outdoors in 4-6 weeks.
Seed-Starting Mistake #2: Planting Too Deep
Read seed packets carefully, for detailed information about how deep to plant seeds. The rule of thumb is to plant seeds at a depth equal to two or three times their width. It is better to plant seeds too shallow than too deep.
Seed-Starting Mistake #3: Not Labeling Trays
Once you start sowing seeds and get dirt on your fingers, you will not want to stop and make labels. Before planting, prepare labels and add them to containers as soon as the seeds go into soil. Otherwise, it can be tough to tell seedlings apart. Be sure to include the sowing date on your labels.
Seed-Starting Mistake #4: Soil Is Not Warm
Seed packets specify the temperature seeds need to germinate – soil temperature, not air temperature. Most seeds germinate at 80ºF. You will have sure success if you use a waterproof root-zone heating mat with a thermostat. Once seeds germinate you can lower soil temperature to 70ºF if desired, so the soil does not dry out too quickly.
Seed-Starting Mistake #5: Too Little Light
In the warmest regions of the country, there is enough ambient light in a south-facing window to grow stocky seedlings. In northern areas where winter brings persistent cloud cover, you will need supplemental lights. Purchase or build an illuminated plant stand to start seedlings. For stocky, healthy seedlings, provide 14-16 hours of light daily. Suspend lights 2-3 inches above seedlings.
Seed-Starting Mistake #6: Water Woes
How much water do seeds need? For seeds to germinate, you need to keep the growing soil damp but not too wet. Learning how to water seedlings is pivotal for success. Many seed starters cover the container with a clear dome or plastic wrap to keep soil moist until seeds germinate. Once seeds sprout, do not miss a watering. Unlike established plants, seedlings do not have an extensive root system they can rely on for vital moisture. At the same time, it is important not to overwater and let seedlings sit in water.
Seed-Starting Mistake #8: Not Enough Pampering
Seedlings are delicate creatures. They need daily attention and lots of tender loving care, especially when they are young. If you cannot monitor seedlings daily, checking on germination, soil moisture, temperature, and lights, you will reduce your chances of success. Seedlings do not survive neglect.
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