Vail Daily Wildflower Gurus column: Starting seeds inside this winter
Ryan Summerlin February 10, 2013
Mid-winter is a great time to start seeds for your summer garden. You may think it’s too early, however, when you consider when our growing season starts and how long it is, getting a head start is a great idea! This week, we’ll explain all of the supplies you need to start seeds successfully.
What would you like to grow? High-quality seeds make seed starting easier with higher germination rates than some of the cheaper seeds typically found in box stores. Read seed packets thoroughly to make sure they are appropriate for your garden and to verify that seeds can be started indoors (be aware that some seeds must be started directly in the garden). Also, consider the maturity time listed on the packet; when planting indoors, long-season vegetable seeds such as tomatoes need to be started before short-season seeds such as lettuce.
Once you have your seed, you’ll need containers. Seed starting flats, small plastic pots and biodegradable peat/coir/cow pots are perfect for starting seeds. Biodegradable pots do not need to be fully removed when the plant grows larger. Saucers or trays placed beneath your containers will catch excess water and soil.
You’ll need potting medium. Typically, seeds germinate best in a soilless potting mix, many of which were developed especially for starting seeds. Coco coir, perlite and vermiculite are also great for starting seeds when used alone or in combination. Pre-formed pellets or plugs are popular alternatives to loose potting mediums and can be transplanted directly into the ground or another pot. Until plants are established, do not use a potting mix that contains fertilizer (nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium), it could burn tender seedlings. Mixes containing mycorrhizae (but no other nutrients) are safe for seedlings. Inoculating your seeds with liquid seaweed/kelp fertilizer and/or a mycorrhizal supplement will increase the likelihood of germination and get your seedlings off to a great start.
Using a humidity dome over your seed tray will trap humidity and warmth, helping to create the perfect environment for seedlings. A spray bottle for misting plants also helps. Prevent mold and fungus from forming when humidity levels become too high by using a dome with adjustable ventilation holes or remove the cover periodically.
Because the days are still fairly short, a great way to ensure success when starting from a seed is to provide supplemental lighting. This will simulate the longer days of spring, encouraging healthy growth and preventing plants from becoming leggy. There are several types of lights. A compact fluorescent “vegetative” or “full spectrum” bulb with a reflective fixture is a great option for beginners.
Some seeds benefit from an additional heat source. Providing a heat source beneath your seed trays encourages quicker germination and increases your chances for success. Seedling heat mats are available in several sizes to fit your needs. Digital thermostats for the heat mats are available to help you fine-tune the amount of heat your seedlings are receiving.
Here are a few optional supplies. You can fertilize your seedlings with a diluted solution of liquid seaweed/kelp fertilizer (1 teaspoon per gallon of water). You can also use a high-low thermometer to track daily temperature variations; timers for lights; and reflective sheeting to distribute light more evenly.
As your seedlings mature you may need additional supplies. You’ll need to convert to larger pots at least two times. This should be done in small increments. Seedling pots are either plastic or biodegradable. Plastic grow bags are also available. You’ll also need additional potting mix, without NPK for the first increase in pot size. Full strength fertilizer and potting mix with NPK may be used when the seedlings have graduated to 6-inch pots and larger.
For more, detailed seasonal information, become a member of the Wildflower Farm. You’ll receive the member’s only monthly newsletter and exclusive discounts.
Wildflower Farm is located in Edwards on U.S. Highway 6. Reach them at 970-926-5504 or firstname.lastname@example.org.