Seed Starting Tips

If you haven’t started your seeds yet, now’s the time. Follow these tips for seed starting success! It usually takes

Find out how to take care of your new seedlings.

If you haven’t started your seeds yet, now’s the time. Follow these tips for seed starting success!

It usually takes a week or two for the first little leaves to poke up their heads. But what a thrill it is to see them! Once they begin to sprout:

Snip away extras. When the first true leaves appear, use sharp scissors to snip some weaker seedlings right at soil level. The properly spared survivors gain better air circulation, important for their health, and their roots won’t have to compete for precious nutritional resources.

Water from above with a fine spray as the seedlings grow bigger. The plastic covering can be shifted on and off as your developing plants need ventilation. After a while, they’ll be too tall and you’ll have to remove it completely

Fertilize seedlings after they germinate with a diluted flowering houseplant fertilizer (about 50 percent of the recommended dilution). Do this about every 2 weeks or less until you begin “hardening off” outdoors. When seedlings are husky, well-rooted (tug gently on the leaves, never the stem, to check) and several inches high, it’s time to get them ready for outdoor life.

Move them outside in late spring to a sheltered spot out of the sun In their original containers or transplanted into new individual pots. Bring them indoors or cover them on chilly nights or if a frost threatens. A few days or a week of gradually introducing them to the sun and outdoors makes them much better prepared for life in your garden.

Seeds started indoors require 12 to 16 hours of light per day.

Confused by seed starting lingo? Here are some common phrases and what they mean.

Damping off: This refers to a fungal disease that attacks developing seedlings, causing them to shrivel and die right at soil level. The fungi thrive in stagnant air and high humidity. The best ways to prevent this problem are to use clean containers and sterile mix and to monitor your seedlings, removing the plastic covering if the environment is too damp and…not to overwater! Seedlings affected by damping off must be discarded; start over with a more sterile, less humid setup.

Pricking off: Once seedlings are a few inches high, they may start to outgrow their quarters. They need to be carefully lifted out or “pricked off.” Depending on how little they are and how closely you sowed, you can use your fingers, tweezers, a fork or a small stick. Gingerly tease interwoven roots apart. Move each plant carefully to its own pot, where it will enjoy more root room and better air circulation.

Hardening off: After the threat of frost has passed, it’s time to get your babies ready for outdoor life in the garden. Move your seedlings outside to an area sheltered from the sun and wind. Bring them indoors or cover on chilly nights or if frost threatens. Stop fertilizing your plants and gradually increase the amount of sun they receive each day for a week or so. They should be ready to place into the garden once the soil is slightly dry rather than waterlogged.

Want more information? Check out the ultimate guide to seed starting!

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Kirsten Schrader
Kirsten is the content director of Birds & Blooms. She's been with the brand in various roles since 2007. She has many favorite birds (it changes with the seasons), but top picks include the red-headed woodpecker, Baltimore oriole and rose-breasted grosbeak. Her bucket list bird is the painted bunting.