In my previous blog post, I talked about the process I go through for narrowing down what plants I am going to grow in my garden every year. It’s an in-depth process, because I want to grow everything, but have neither the time or the space to do so.
Once my plants are picked out, the seeds ordered, and spring visible in the distance, it is time to start my seedlings. Here are my tips for setting your seedlings up for success, as well as ways to keep the cost of the garden within your budget.
Tip 1: Find seeds for varieties that grow well in your area.
When you are looking for seeds, it is easy to order from one of the many online companies and get sticker shock. I recommend signing up for the e-mail lists for any bigger distributors and waiting for coupons for free shipping or buy one get one. Also, always check out the sale section of their website for comparable varieties at a fraction of the cost.
Check out your local extension office and library. Depending on where you live, extension offices and libraries may have free seeds that you can have for varieties that grow well in your area. You won’t find any rare or exciting plants, but if you want some greens, beans, tomatoes, and the like, they can be a great resource.
Seed Swaps are also a great way to score low-cost seeds. Some seed swaps allow participation if you bring seeds or if you offer a small donation. You are guaranteed to find varieties of plants that grow well in your area because the seeds are usually saved from previous harvests by your neighbors and community members. Even if I order seeds online, I still go to a local seed swap or two to share seeds I saved and to snag anything I couldn’t fit into my online order or want a few seeds to try out.
Lastly, as you continue to garden save the seeds from your favorite plants and store them away for next year. If you plan far in advance, you can purchase discount seeds at local stores and keep them over winter for the next growing season.
Tip 2: Containers for your seeds
You want to make sure you start seeds inside that are necessary to do so. If a seed can be directly sowed outside, it may have a better survival rate than starting it inside and transferring. Similarly, you can pick seedling containers that are gentler on the young roots when you go to transplant.
For instance, if you buy eggs in the cardboard cartons, you can save the cartoons for starting seeds. The cartoons naturally biodegrade so you can gently tear the bottoms and plant them directly into the soil outside. If you are careful about cracking eggshells, you can plant seeds straight into empty eggshells, which gives a boost of calcium to the soil when you transplant as an added bonus.
There is nothing wrong with using the plastic trays that come with most seed starting kits if you have space. They can often be reused year to year. The one benefit of the egg cartons or eggshells is that if you are putting your seeds on a windowsill, they will tend to fit better than the seed starting flats which need a shelf or other larger surface.
Tip 3: Soil, Light, and Water
While it can be tempting to dig some dirt out of the yard and use that to start your seeds, this is the one time I recommend splurging and buying seed starting soil. You don’t need a lot of soil for starters, and you can purchase it at a relatively low cost at a lot of stores (hardware, grocery, dollar, etc). This way you don’t have to worry about your soil not having the right nutrients or being too dense.
Light is important for seedlings, but not until the seeds push a stem up through the soil. Until you see stems and leaves emerge, warmth is more important than light! Many seeds enjoy warm soil between 60 and 70 degrees. You can achieve this with a heating mat, ambient room temperature, or by placing it in the sun. Many people will put plastic wrap or clear plastic over the seed starters to create a greenhouse effect and keep the soil warmer until the seedlings emerge. If you don’t have a good sunspot for your seedlings to grow towards, you can purchase or build your own grow light system. Most years, I have used my window sills. This year, I was gifted a grow light setup for my seedlings since my new house has narrow and low window sills and I have two dogs that like to look out those window sills.
When using a grow light, make sure to keep the light a proper distance from your seedlings and shorten the chain or light length as your seedlings get taller. This can help them from getting scraggly looking or from getting damaged by the light source.
Most importantly? Never let your soil completely dry out. Seeds like damp conditions. They want that life-giving moisture and seedlings are not strong enough to go through any kind of “drought” conditions. There are self water setups you can create for your seedlings, or you can set an alarm on your phone to remind you to water them every day or every other day. Evening watering can be best because you don’t have to worry about the sun scalding wet leaves.
Tip 4: Grow Extras
You never know if a seed won’t take, if a seedling will get damaged, or if a transplant will end up with broken roots. If you have space, plant a couple extra seeds. Worst-case scenario, you can share these seedlings with your friends and neighbors and help their gardens grow!
What are your favorite tips for setting your seeds up for success?