Planting seeds is one of those hobbies that spark joy during the long dark days of late winter. I really enjoy watching a clump of dirt spring to life and then watch the beautiful seedlings transform into a big, healthy plant that can be planted into my garden and mature into a marvelous fruit bearing delight. Furthermore, I can plant the varieties that I enjoy rather than buying the plants that are available in nurseries.
I live in the mountains of Utah, where the growing season is somewhat short. Planting seeds to ensure strong healthy plants to plant into the garden is especially important for an abundant harvest. Planting seeds is simple but raising the seedlings can be a challenge. There are many directions on how and when, but not much on the transition periods of the seedling’s growth and the fatal mistakes can be made.
Most seed packets have directions on how to sow the seeds. I find those directions to be a good start. Unfortunately, the packet directions stop when the seedlings germinate. I find that the hardest part of planting the seeds, starts after they have sprouted. The soil must be right, the water must be monitored, the temperature must be correct, they need to be transplanted at just the right time and then hardened off. If all is done correctly, the plants will transition nicely into the garden and bypass any shock that plants from the nursery undergo when put in the ground.
1. How and when to plant your seeds
You will find much information on how and when to start your seeds. The quick answer is all the information is good information, but I find that each garden is different, so you will need to take the information and experiment a little on when to plant seeds and what works in your area with your climate. You will need to be aware of temperature and sunlight hours. Most tomato seed packet directions say to plant 8-10 weeks before the last frost. I start my seeds at the end of February or the first week in March and do not plant them in the garden until Memorial Day, which is about 12- weeks. If I wait until April to plant the seeds, as per package directions, my tomatoes do not ripen before the killing frost in the fall.
QUICK TIPS: I use a seed starting greenhouse kit with a watering tray, 50 cell peat pots and a clear greenhouse dome. They are readily available at most stores with nurseries.
A heat mat is useful for keep the seeds warm if you do not have a warm space to aid in the germination of the seeds.
2. Soil for planting seeds
Getting the soil and water correct during the process is really the key to success. I have tried many brands and varieties of soil mix to start the seeds and I have the most success with Miracle Grow Potting Soil Mix. This brand seems to have the nutrients just-right for plant growth.
TROUBLESHOOTING: With other brands including the soil pellets available:
Yellow leaves (second set of leaves turn yellow)
Purple leaves (leaves turn purple. Note that too cool temperature can also cause purple leaves)
Stunted growth (plants never develop a second set of leaves- sometimes they can be saved by transplanting)
3. Watering your seedlings
Water is the killing step… too little water and the plants die; too much water kills by rotting the roots.
QUICK TIPS: At the time of planting the soil must be moist and warm to the touch.
When the seedlings are hatched cut back on the water so that the roots are not submersed in water.
Transplanting two times before going into the garden will give your plants the competitive edge that you need to have the best garden in the neighborhood.
The first transplanting needs to be performed when the second set of leaves grow on the seedling.
The second transplant needs to be performed when the plants are 8 to 10 inches high.
5. Hardening off
Hardening off is the process of taking delicate greenhouse born plants and toughing them up for the uncontrolled elements of the outdoors. Hardening off will happen a couple of times during the process.
The first time when removing the dome from the seedlings.
Second, before planting in the garden
6. Planting in the Garden
The trick to planting more mature plants into the garden is to plant in the evening before sundown and give them ample water. This will give the plants time to accept the disturbance to the roots before fighting the sun.
QUICK TIP:For tomatoes and the tomato family, remove all flowers so the plant can focus all its energy on the root system instead of producing fruit. Remove all the leaves on 6 to 8 inches of the stem and plant deep, covering of the stem.