The Best Time To Start Seeds For Spring Gardens

Have you seen the price of new bedding plants at the big box stores? Wowza! As I predicted, it jumped in price again. At one store, they upped their price by another 40 cents a pack.

It was only a decade ago that a 6-pack of seedlings were at most 79 cents, now they're $3.99 a pack. They had held steady at $1.59 for a number of years, but about three years ago, I noticed a sharp uptick in price.

Unless you're made of money--or only planting a very small garden, buying seedlings doesn't make sense.

It's time to think about starting your own seeds. It's super easy. The hard part is finding the space inside your home.

First, get thee a calendar.

Find your last frost date before Spring. The Old Farmer's Almanac has an app that lets you calculate your frost dates by zip code. 

Once you find your last frost date, count backwards on your calendar 6-8 weeks. This is how long you need to grow your seedlings before transplanting.

I err on the long side for slower sprouting seeds like peppers, tomatoes, and beans. These seeds might take up to a week to germinate and won't take off unless they have warm temperatures and enough sunlight.

Here's what you need for your first week.

Seedling trays, planting medium, and seeds.

Optional supplies: warming mat, plastic wrap.

Your first week is easy. As long as you have a nice warm spot, you don't need sunlight to start your vegetable seeds. A few flower seeds need light to germinate but not many.

Although you might be tempted to use potting soil, don't. It's generally too dense for most seeds. Instead buy or make your own soilless growing medium.

Soilless mix recipe: The ingredients are simple. 1 part peat moss. 1/2 part vermiculite and 1/2 part perlite. That's it. It's light and fluffy and will sustain your seedlings until they're ready to be transplanted.

Water: Soil mix should be moist but never sopping wet. Also never let the soil dry out completely. If your plants are indoors, it's likely the air will be drier. In this event cover your seedlings with plastic wrap or a clear plastic dome to maintain steady moisture.

I generally spritz my trays 2-3 times a day until the seeds sprout, enough to keep the soil moist. 

Warmth: If your house is on the cool side (under 65 degrees) consider buying a heating mat that sits  underneath your trays.

Containers: I buy the six-cell trays for my seedlings. My reasons are two-fold. One: 6 cells are ideal for growing plants by variety. I rarely grow more than six of any one variety of vegetable. The exceptions are lettuces, cabbages, and bok choy. Two: They're easier to transport.

I've also started out with whatever I had on hand too. You don't have to get fancy if you're just starting a few seeds. Here's a past post of other types of seed-starting containers.

Your assignment for this week is to confirm when your last frost date is for your area, then count 8 weeks before that date.

Next week we'll get into how to create the right light spectrum to get your seeds going, and how to grow seedlings without a greenhouse.

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Mike Keyton said…
I am fairly hopeless at this, though in my prime I was a dab hand at taking cuttings from geraniums. What a thing to put on a CV.
I've also grown two rose bushes from cuttings, but your care and attention to detail is beyond me. :)