Taking the Guesswork Out of Caring for Your Seedlings

Hello garden gals and guys!

I hope you all are doing well. I usually do my blog posts on Mondays, but I had little accident last weekend and my pinkie is in a splint and that makes it hard to type.

What happened?

Well, one of my chickens that loves to follow me around ran between my legs. To try and not fall on her, I landed on the concrete pad of my garage...on my arm and my hand. So this is what my pinkie currently looks like:


It isn't broken, but it's badly sprained. And I mean badly. It's been almost a week since I fell and it still hurts.... A LOT...and typing not using it is a bit difficult, so please excuse any typos I may not catch. 

Anyhow, on to the topic of today's post. 

Have you ever wanted to try growing from seed?

Have you tried starting your own seeds and got frustrated and given up?

Well, let me share some tips with you that I think might really help you be successful at growing your own plants from seeds. I am not growing from seed this year, for the first time in a long time, but in this post I will share past videos I have done to help you be a more successful gardener.

Okay this post is going to be longer than normal so get yourself a cup of coffee or tea and settle in. 

Ready? Okay.

Seedling Sprouts and Lighting

So, you've planted your seeds, you've kept the soil most, but not soggy (more on this later in the post), and one day you walk past that seedling tray and you see a bunch of little sprouts that seem to have appeared overnight. 

If you start your seeds indoors as I do, now is the time to get a grow light. A sunny window ledge will not do. 

Why? 

Because when plants are young, they need to be very close to a light source. If they are just in a sunny location, they will become "leggy". That means the seedling will grow very long and thin and will look very straggly. This is happening because the plant is trying to reach for the light. It also happens because your plants are in a sheltered environment. 

To prevent this, you need a fluorescent grow light. 

You want to put that grow light no more than one to two inches above your seedlings. As the seedlings grow, keep raising the light to keep it just above the seedlings, being sure the leaves don't touch the grow light (you don't want the leaves to get burned). Here is a short video I did on seedlings with some examples of what leggy seedlings look like:



I also take my hand and just gently rub it over my seedlings once or twice a day. It's like making gentle breeze for the seedlings and this helps their stalks grow nice and thick and strong. Pretty neat, right?  

Okay so now they have the proper lighting, and we are giving them a loving gentle breeze, but they also need something else: water. That leads us to our next challenge: damping off.

Damping Off Disease

Finding the right balance of moisture for your seedlings is important. Too little water and your seedlings may die. Too much water and you get damping off disease. What is that? Damping off disease is a white mold that forms on the top of your plants. The spores for this mold are just naturally in the air, looking for cold, damp areas where they can land and grow (so try to avoid growing seedlings in your basement if you can).

If you happen to get this, don't panic! 

First, get the plants in some sunlight and don't water them anymore until the plants have dried well. Scrape off the mold as much as you can without harming the seedlings. I have also found that spreading cinnamon on top of the soil prevents further spread of the mold. Here is a little video I did on damping off disease:


I also have found that it is best to bottom-water the seedlings. Put your cell packs or grow pots in a tray of water and allow them to sit. I usually let mine sit for about 20 minutes in the water. I then stick my finger carefully in the soil away from the seedling (I hate doing this because I don't want to disturb the seedling roots) and when it feels like a wrung out sponge, I pour the rest of the water out. Do not let the remaining water stay in the tray. 


I don't water again until I see the soil just barely starting to pull away from the edges of the cell packs. This is another common challenge with growing seeds. When I first began, I watered a little too much and suffered from damping off disease. Heck, I still get a little of this every time I grow. So don't feel badly if it happens to you. 

When to Feed Your Seedlings

Now you may be wondering if and when you need to fertilize these cute little plants. Seedlings won't need a lot of extra nutrients in its first few days after sprouting. Your soil starting mix has a nicely balanced formula of nutrients that your little plants need for its first days of life. 

I don't usually give them any type of fertilizer until I see their first TRUE leaves appear. True leaves are the leaves that sprout from the center of the cotyledon leaves and they are the true foliage of that plant. Once I see two or three true leaves, I give them a water-soluble fertilizer that I mix at half strength. An all-purpose water-soluble fertilizer is best. 

At this stage, root development is really important. When you are buying a fertilizer, you usually see three numbers on the package or bottle that look like this: 3-6-3. There can be any range of numbers. What those three numbers are telling you is the amount of Nitrogen, Phosphate, and Potassium
(N-P-K) in the fertilizer in that order. So, look for a fertilizer that has a higher P (or middle) number, because that will help with root growth. In fact, though I used 3-6-3 as an example, that's a pretty good ratio if you can find it. 

I fertilize every two or three weeks. I also give them a little boost of fertilizer right before transplanting them into the ground. Ah, the perfect segue into our next topic.

When to Transplant

Now this will really depend on what state you live in and what growing zone you are in. You can click here to find out what growing zone you live in. I live in Maryland in zone 7a. I have found that transplanting my seedlings into the ground right around mother's day works best. All chances of cold snaps and surprise frosts have mostly passed and the ground has warmed sufficiently. 

Here is another tip for transplanting: give your seedlings a good drink of water before putting them into the ground. This helps with a little something called transplant shock. This is where your plants seem to be wilting when you plant them and look like they might be dying. Well, they aren't. They are just getting used to their new environment, and I have found that watering them before removing them from their pots seems to mostly avoid this. 

So, that's it garden gals and guys. I hope that this helps you get grow nice, healthy seedlings. It may take a few years to really get the hang of it, but growing from seed is a great skill to have if you like to grow food so stick with it! 

Feel free to leave your own experiences with growing seedlings in the comments! 

Until next time....

Happy farming!










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