As Spring approaches for most of us, it's time to dive into the wonderful world of starting seeds. When you're a beginner gardener, starting seeds can seem like a daunting task. Maybe you've only purchased transplants up to this point in your gardening journey, and are only dipping your toes into starting seeds this season.
While the process isn't hard, there are certainly a lot of mistakes you can make if you're not paying attention. In this piece, I'm going to go over six of the mistakes I feel are most commonly made by beginner gardeners so you can have a healthy, thriving batch of seeds this Spring!
Photo by alikaj2582 via Adobe Stock
You're Not Giving Them Enough Light
In a young seedling's life, light is the number one resource they need. The seed itself will provide them with enough nutrition to grow and hopefully you're giving them enough water. Where most beginners go wrong is providing their delicate seedlings with too little light.
Your seedlings are starving for light in the beginning of their life, and simply placing them on a south-facing window often isn't enough to cut it. It's practically essential to supplement your natural light with an indoor grow light that you set on a timer for 14 hours on, 10 hours off per day. By doing this, you avoid causing legginess in your seedlings, which weakens the seedling overall and likely means it won't do well when transplanted into your garden.
You're Not Watering Correctly
Once you're sure that light isn't an issue, make sure you know how to properly water your seedlings. Before germination, the simplest way to water is with a mister, directly on the top of your seed starting trays. Watering cans tend to be a bit too aggressive of a stream of water, so avoid unless you buy one that has a broken-up water stream.
A more effective strategy, especially once your seedlings have germinated, is to bottom-water. With this method, you're using capillary action to draw water up through the soil to your plants' roots. All you need to do is add water to the bottom of the tray your seedling inserts are in, and let physics do the work!
The Temperature Isn't Right
Seeds aren't dead...they're dormant. And one of the major triggers that starts the germination process is the temperature of your soil. For most seedlings, this means a warmer temperature, because in nature this signals the end of winter and beginning of spring.
Most seeds begin germinating in a temperature range of 45 degrees F to 75 degrees F, though you should look up the specific temperature recommended for the seeds you're starting, or look at the back of the seed packet. If you're starting seeds in a cold area, a seedling heat mat is pretty much crucial. It'll boost the temperature of your soil to an optimal level, causing your seedlings to begin the germination process.
You Planted Too Deep
Seed sowing depth can be confusing and seem a bit arbitrary, but it's quite important for seed starting. some larger seeds like beans or peas have quite a bit of vigor in them and can handle being buried deeper into the soil. They're also larger and need to be planted deeper for full coverage.
Other seeds are quite small and fragile. If planted deeply, they won't have the strength to push their way to the surface to get access to the precious light they need to thrive.
Still other seeds need access to light as a germination signal. With all of these variations, I can't give you a direct recommendation on seed depth except to say that you should adhere to the back of your seed packets as best as possible.
You're Using Non-Sterilized Equipment
Sterile soil and seed starting trays are vital. This is one of the most common mistakes I see, because gardeners are often excited to start seeds and don't go through the proper protocol to make sure no pests or diseases have made their way into the soil or equipment.
Remember, your seedlings are vulnerable in their young age. It's the same as a newborn...you don't want to give them contaminated food or toys to play with! Buying sterilized seed starting mix instead of making your own is a good call as a beginner. To sterilize trays, wash them free of any debris and they spray them with food-grade hydrogen peroxide.
You Didn't Label Your Trays
My final 'mistake' is more of an organization failure. Assuming you've followed these tips, you should have nice and healthy seedlings. But if you didn't label your trays...you might not remember what you planted! To avoid this, I recommend writing down the following for every different type of seed you start:
- Planting Date
By doing this, you won't need to rely on your memory when your seedlings are grown up and ready to get out into the garden.
I hope these tips help prevent some of the mistakes you make as you venture out into the garden this Spring!