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•Plant seeds sparingly. You’ll have to thin them anyway. Some growers plant only two seeds per cell pot. If you’re planting in flat trays, place seeds 1/2” to 1” (1 to 2.5 cm) apart, depending on seed size, and space rows 1 1/2” to 2” (3-5 cm) apart. Make a depression in soil with your finger or a pencil and plant seed about three times as deep as its diameter. If packet says seed requires light to germinate, then put it just on surface of soil.
•Set containers in a water-filled tray. This allows pots to draw water from bottom without disturbing seeds. Cover tray and pots with plastic to help hold moisture and heat.
•Place entire set-up on a heat source between 75 - 85° F (24 - 29° C). Although a heat mat designed for this purpose is ideal, you can also use top of a fridge, or a spot near a radiator or space heater.
•Once seeds have germinated, remove plastic and put pots (with water tray) near a light source at a reduced temperature. Good light is crucial at this point to ensure good growth. Fluorescent shop lights within a few inches of tops of seedlings are perfectly suited. You can also try a sunny south window but ideally light should be on plants for 16 hours out of each 24-hour period. In my climate, we just don’t have 16 hours of daylight this time of year! Seedlings respond best to daytime temperatures of 60 - 70° F (16 - 21°C) and night temperatures of 50 - 60° F (10 - 16°C).
•Here’s where it becomes critical to prevent damping-off. One way to do this is to let an electric fan blow gently across surface of soil during daylight hours. There are also specially formulated products on market that can be applied to surface of soil when you are planting seeds that will help stop damping-off from developing.
•When seedlings have developed their first set of true leaves (not round little germination leaves), pull all but one plant per cell. It’s hard, I know, to pull up living plants but it’s necessary to prevent overcrowding that will kill all of them.
•When seedlings have developed their second set of true leaves, start watering them (from bottom) with fertilizer diluted to quarter strength.
•A week or 10 days before you plan to plant them outside, start “hardening off” tender seedlings. Stop fertilizing, and cut amount of water in half. If possible, keep them in a cooler space inside and start introducing them to direct sun and fluctuating temperatures of outdoors. Begin by setting trays outside for an hour in mid-morning or mid-afternoon ad gradually lengthen time to several hours. Don’t put them out in heavy rain or cold, strong wind and be sure to bring them indoors at night.
Follow these steps and you’ll have a bounty of young, strong plants to fill your hanging baskets and pots. This year, you’ll have planters of your dreams!
Debbie Rodgers owns and operates Paradise Porch, and is dedicated to helping people create outdoor living spaces that nurture and enrich them. Visit her on the web at www.paradiseporch.com and get a free report on “Eight easy ways to create privacy in your outdoor space”. Mail to firstname.lastname@example.org