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Your Garden – The How to Guide For Seedlings and Transplants
With all these gardening tips, I can surprise you with this confession: I very rarely start seeds indoors and plant outside.
While seeds are certainly cheaper than transplants, I have to admit that I have had very limited success with starting seeds indoors. Starting seeds indoors requires little more than just sticking a seed in the dirt and then waiting for it to grow! Too often my seeds didn’t take, or they were moldy or I simply forgot to water them. Then I have to start all over again after waiting 6 weeks and I have unsightly peat pots all over the place, just ended up in a nursery to buy transplants anyway!
I know that this confession will probably disqualify me from “expert garden status” but that’s OK with me. I can’t help it, I just love to buy these plants all started for me. For one thing, I know they are good for my area, and most often they come with a guarantee from the nursery (mostly for shrubs, not vegetables but some places guarantee). They were taken care of by someone who knows more and probably cares more, so I know they are strong and healthy. I don’t have to tell them, and I really don’t like thinning. It is right here with weeding, and since I can not avoid weeding, I chose to avoid thinning 🙂 And I must confess, I love the instant satisfaction of planting these big healthy plants! I guess I’m a lazy perfectionist.
However, you may choose to try starting your seeds indoors, and if you do, there are a few things you’ll need to know to be successful.
When To Start Your Pills
You will need to start these seedlings 4-6 weeks before your last frost for your area. To find out what this should be for your area, you can go here to find your last frost date. Whatever you do, don’t get spring fever and plant your garden before your last frost or you’ll more than likely lose your precious plants. If we have a rainy season, I also wait it out a little longer so that my sensitive plants don’t get waterlogged and damaged. You can also download this Seed Starter Chart (pdf file). This should be a handy thing to put in your gardening notebook so you’ll have it for next year.
Don’t buy all kinds of expensive small containers and kits. You don’t need them! The reason you start from seed is to save money, right!? There are many ways to save money that you can start seeds indoors very expensive. You can start your seeds from toilet paper rolls (tutorial here) or even better from old newspapers (tutorials here and here). Newspaper frames can be planted directly in your garden, pots and all. I have used these before with success. I also used egg cartons. Cut the egg carton apart from the top, poke holes in the bottom of the carton and plant. Line the top portion with some plastic and some pebbles and use this for your drainage tray.
How to start them
After choosing your containers, you will need a tray to place them and protect the surface below. You can use clean, old yogurt cups or you can buy a larger tray to put them all in. If you buy the larger tray, it will usually come with a handy plastic lid to keep your seeds warm. I’ve also used cardboard dishes, like the ones that pack soda or soup in entree boxes. You can go straight to your grocery store and ask for some. They will usually be more than happy to give them to you. I save my groceries and shopping bags (thick ones are good) and put the box inside it. You can cut it to fit and tape it to hold it. You could also pick up some draining racks from the dollar store or even the tubs that you use to do dishes and use those. Remember to always try to make it as expensive as possible. One of the goals of your garden should be to save money instead of spending it!
Next, you will need some potting soil. You can find this at your local nursery or garden center, and it will probably be cheaper at places like Wal-Mart or Kmart. Peat soil is good because it will provide the drainage you need. Make sure you get potting soil. You can buy an inexpensive store brand as long as it is labeled potting soil or seed starting soil. Put some of your soil up to about 1/4 inch from the top of your container and moisten it lightly with a spray bottle. Keep this spray bottle close because you will be using it to mist your plants. Overwatering will damage the sensitive roots and often overwater, causing your plants to mold or drown.
Check your seed packet for specific instructions for starting indoors. Some seeds need to be soaked or soaked overnight in water to aid in germination. Place 2-3 seeds in each pot, well spaced. Push the seeds down and cover with the remaining soil. Steam again lightly. Make sure you mark your seeds somehow, Popsicle sticks work well. Mark the date you planted on your wood so you can keep track of when they should germinate. Use permanent marker so it won’t wash off when wet. Now you will need to keep these pots warm, in sunlight and away from drafts. To keep them warm you can simply cover loosely with plastic wrap or use the plastic tray cover if you have one. Make sure you leave some space for it to breathe, because the seeds need oxygen to germinate. Remember to mist your plants often. You want the soil to stay evenly moist, but not wet. Make sure your soil doesn’t get too dry or too wet.
If you don’t have a bright spot for your plants, you can use a fluorescent lamp on your plants to mimic sunlight and heat. Usually, you can take a lamp that you can hang on the plants, ask around, or you can find them cheap at Walmart. Use a 40 watt bulb, and make sure you can move the light higher as your plants grow. It should be about 4″ higher than your plants I have always had sunny windows so I have never used this method, although we have hatched chickens before and we need a lamp, but I am sure that is something different altogether !
Once your plants emerge and get bigger (check your seed packet for when this should be and compare it to the date on your label), you will need to thin them out. You can usually do this when they have two or three leaves or when they will be crowded in the pots. You will need to transplant each plant into its own pot. They will continue to grow and bigger until one day you can put them in your garden!
If you notice they are getting “leggy”, thin or scraggly, they are not getting enough sunlight and you may need to apply the lamp method I mentioned. Thin scraggly plants are unhealthy and susceptible to disease, and you don’t want that after all that hard work!
Keep your skin safe
Before you start your seeds indoors, have you considered a safe place to keep them? When I had cats, and I was ambitious and started seeds indoors, my cats were completely destructive with my small tray. They drink the water, use it for a litter box, and try to dig some of it themselves. One year, my little kids decided to help me and moved around all my plant markers to make it “look nicer”. You will need to protect these little plants from children, pets and occasionally husband!
As I said before, when planning your garden, plant only what you plan to use. When starting seeds, don’t plant all those little seeds in the seed packet, or you’ll end up with more vegetables than you could ever need or want! You can however plan for plant succession. This is a method where you plant seeds at different times throughout the growing season so your plants don’t ripen all at once. You can do this with transplants as well, but not as successfully, by buying your transplants at different times. Hit up this nursery center when they are running their clearance sale at the end and get some more plants!
When you plant in this way, you can be sure that you have a certain vegetable all season instead of just all at once. This is a little more involved and you have to have a plan and be diligent, but it’s worth the extra work. Simply start a few seeds, say 6-10 of a vegetable, a week, then make a few more the next week. Be sure to date your plant markers so you can keep track. Using this method, you will have a continuous harvest of this particular vegetable.
Once your plants are established and growing well you will need to cut them. You can not take a plant and transplant it directly in the garden. They can go into shock and die. Hardening is simply exposing your plant to the elements gradually. About two weeks before you want to plant, start taking your pots outside in the heat of the day, and leave them outside for 1 hour, then increase to 2, then 3 until eventually they are outside most of the day . Eventually you will leave them out overnight, ideally for a week before you plant. Watch for heavy rain, very cold nights and frost warnings and be sure to bring your plants if any of these are expected. Also be sure again to keep animals and children away from your skins. Keep them in an area where animals cannot knock over, crush or dig them.
All These Supplements
Seed companies would like to tell you that your seeds are only good for one growing season. That is not true. You can store seeds for years and still plant them. If you started some pills, you will likely stay. Simply close the package tightly and stick them in your garden newspaper. Baseball card pockets usually work well for these. Keep them dry and away from sunlight. Watch for end-of-season clearance sales and buy some seeds for next year.
This is too much work, I want to transplant!
OK, so now that you know what is involved in seed starting you have decided to go with transplantation. i can understand 🙂
You always need a plan. Never go to a nursery that does not have one, or you will fall in love with all those beautiful little plants that promise and overbuy. Make sure you have a list of what you want and how much you want, and shop wisely.
Transplants are more expensive, but I feel worth it. They don’t have to break your budget though. You can play smart and get them much, much cheaper.
First of all, find out if your local high school has a vocational horticulture program. Many times they do this, and they will have a greenhouse. The students will do all the planting for you, and you can buy the transplants. This is a very expensive way to get your transplants as they usually sell them for half the price (or less) than a garden center. The variety may be smaller, but you can fill in the gaps at your local nursery.
Another way is to buy only a few plants, then wait for the sales and get more. This is a great way to plant succession and save money. Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Wal Mart all have decent garden centers and will be cheaper than a nursery most of the time. Just like grocery shopping, know your prices to get the best deal.
You can also split packages with a friend. You may not want 6 tomato plants. If you split the package with someone you can get what you want and save money.
You can also become friends with your local nursery center and barter with them if you have time. Maybe they need short term help and in exchange they will offer you a substantial discount.
You can also use sugar free. Freecycle.org is a forum where you can post and find free stuff in your local area. You can ask for what you need and you may be surprised at what others will give you. Also check out craigslist.org for other people who have cheap gardening items, and even give some away. Don’t forget EBay either. You can search the local area and you can also order seeds from many sellers there.
Source For Seeds
I have always bought my pills from places like Wal mart or K Mart. They have a great selection and are cheap. If you want heirloom plants or a particular plant, you can order from a catalog. If you Google what you are looking for, I am sure that you will come up with many. I order bare roots and shrubs from Four Seasons Nursery and have been very happy in the past. I have used them for many years and they have a great warranty on their products as well as fast shipping and excellent customer service.
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