Seed-starting tips that set the stage for a successful garden.
Seed racks in the stores are filled with a great selection this time of year. Make your selection while the choice of seeds is at its best. I suggest sowing pansies, impatiens, geraniums and petunias right now. Starting seeds indoors is fun and a great way to engage kids in gardening at any age.
Success depends on quality materials, good timing, and sowing each seed variety according to its needs. Check the packet instructions carefully for the recommended sowing times. Sowing seeds too early will result in “leggy” plants longing for the outdoors. Too late and the result is small plants that may not reach maturity during the growing season.
Along with high-quality seeds and clean seeding trays, use a seed-start germination mix, such as Green Earth Seed Starting Mix. Seed starting mixes are formulated to maximize water retention while they drain well. By growing vegetables and annuals from seed, you get a head start on the season, save some money (versus buying transplants later in spring), and you have an opportunity to try new varieties.
Pansies, geraniums and petunias need to be sown on the surface of the soil (i.e. not buried) and moistened. Place a barrier over them, like a couple sheets of newspaper, to keep them moist and in the dark until germination. Impatiens require light to germinate and should be sown directly on the surface of the soil. A hand-held spray mister of tepid water is handy for small projects. Give the surface of the soil several squirts daily to keep the seeds moist; water more thoroughly from a watering can when the soil becomes dry.
THE 100-METRE DIET
I call growing vegetables in your own backyard the “100-metre diet.” A short list of veggies to grow from seed sown directly into the soil includes: peas, beans, corn, squash, pumpkin, and carrots. However, you can start sowing these vegetables from seed in March: radishes, broad beans, mustard greens, peas, cabbage, onions, and spinach, for most parts of Canada.
A sunny window (south- or westfacing) can provide sufficient light. Or you may use supplemental grow lights, set about 12 cm above the surface of the soil. As the seedlings mature, move the lights up, keeping them about 12 cm from the top-most leaves all of the time. If you use a fluorescent light fixture, keep in mind that the light is strongest in the middle of the bulb. Move your trays of seedlings around every few days to share the highest intensity between them.
A $10 GREENHOUSE
Mini greenhouses have a humidity dome to seal in moisture and encourage germination. If any of your new seedlings begin to wilt, it is likely one of two things: over-watering or damping off. Either way, cut back on the watering, allowing the surface of the soil to dry slightly between watering, and prop up the greenhouse top or remove it altogether.
If young seedlings collapse at the main stem at the surface of the soil, this is caused by a fungus and commonly called “damping off.” To prevent further damage, cut back on watering and spray with a sulfur solution.
Improve the air circulation around the plants to help with mildew problems— a small oscillating fan works well.
Check out new seed offerings at your local garden centre or hardware store (including my new line of seeds at Home Hardware), and browse seed catalogues that have arrived recently.
By reading the back of the seed packages, you’ll find cultural information that is so important for seed sowing and the cultivation of the plants later on. Take special notice of the light requirements of each variety and think about your own yard when you make your purchases.
Mark Cullen appears on Canada AM every Wednesday morning at 8:40. He is the Lawn and Garden Expert for Home Hardware. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com