Gardeners, It’s Time to Start Your Seeds

— Written By Brittany Miller
en Español

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It’s that time of year when the seed catalogs start arriving in the mail. The glossy photos of veggies and flowers spill from the pages while you glance out the window at gray skies and bare branches. But to make the transition from drab beds to beautiful vegetables and flowers requires one of three things: Either buy plants from your local garden center, buy seed packets there, or place your orders from one or more of the catalogs (or their online shopping sites).

Starting plants from seeds has several advantages:

  1. You get exactly the variety you want, which may not be available at the store.
  2. You get a head start on your gardening calendar so that your seedlings will be ready to transplant and grow outside at the proper time.*
  3. You control the growing conditions that your seeds will require to germinate, develop into healthy seedlings and be ready for transplanting. Regrettably, some garden center plants come home with diseases and pests.

However there are some challenges that confront the gardener:

  1. Seeds have different conditions that must be met if seeds are going to sprout and grow. It is imperative that you follow closely the seed packet instructions.
  2. Some calculations are required to assure that the seeds are planted at the right time to then be transplanted later into the garden plot.*
  3. You must be vigilant in checking often to see that the seeds and then seedlings are doing okay: Make sure the soil stays moist, not wet and that the pots have good air circulation, proper temperatures and plenty of light.
  4. Unlike established outdoor plants, seedlings are tender and must be gradually introduced into full sun, wind and perhaps chilly air. This is called “hardening off.” Offer them increasing exposure to these elements each day over a period of a week.
  5. You must make every effort to see that your young seedlings do not succumb to “damping off.” This dreaded disease is actually a collection of fungal diseases that attack young seedlings with deadly results. Tender stems brown and wither and tops topple over. There is no cure, but you can take some steps to reduce the likelihood that this will happen.
    • Use sterile potting soil. Do not use garden soil!
    • Avoid over-watering especially when done on the soil surface.
    • Provide good air circulation.
    • Sprinkle dry soil and/or cinnamon on the surface next to the seedling stems to further protect against damping off.

To start your seeds, you will need:

  1. Sterile potting soil
  2. Small pots or trays with dividers
  3. A dibble or small straight stick to poke holes in the soil for your seeds to lodge in
  4. A watering can or source for adding chemical-free water to the tray bottom
  5. Plant markers

items include: a warming pad or tray to maintain a warm germination environment, and a grow light if starting in a low-light area.
NOTE: Seedlings do not need fertilizing until they have grown into young plants with their first true leaves. Seedlings are delicate and should be handled by gently grasping their tops, not their stems, when transplanting.

So, happy seed growing. You’ll thrill watching your babies grow and later start  producing for you!

-Larry Schulz
Master Gardener℠ volunteer
January 2020

* Visit this link for “Central North Carolina Planting Calendar for Annual Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs.” or you can pick one up at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Scotland County Center 231 E. Cronly St., Suite 800 Laurinburg, NC 28352 910-277-2422.