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Starting Plants Indoors

Starting Plants

For those of use who live in a climate where the number of frost free days just about approximates the number of days needed for plants to flower or vegetables to bear eatable product, it becomes essential that such plants are started indoors.  Once they have grown to a reasonable height and your climate is frost free then they can be are hardened off and transplanted into the outdoor soil. 

Here are some hints on sowing and maintaining plants indoors.


Follow the instructions on the back of the package or in this planting guide. Some large seeds, such as watermelon or squash seeds can be seeded directly into the pot where they will grow until transplanting outdoors. For small seeds like petunias or lobelia, it is best to simply scatter the seed thinly over the surface of the soil and then cover with an appropriate amount of soil. After germination the tiny seedlings can be separated and transplanted into larger containers. Most plants can be grown in fiber packs with 4-8 seedlings per pack, depending on the plant. Some vegetables, such as lettuce and those in the cabbage family, can be sown and grown directly in 1”x1”x2” cells with one plant per cell. Growing in cell packs helps to eliminate root disturbance at the time of transplanting.

Soil temperature refers to the ideal warmth of the soil required to initiate germination. Most seeds germinate at a soil temperature of 18-22°C. Keeping the temperature within this range can be hard, especially for seeds like peppers which take more than a week to germinate. Regular air temperature is generally warmer that the soil temperature, and is not sufficient enough to warm the soil. For best results, try using, a propagation mat, heating cable or a hotbed.

Soil moisture is equally as important as the temperature. The seed needs water to help soften the seed coat and stimulate the root development. Once the root has penetrated into soil, the young seedling emerges from the soil towards the light. If the soil is allowed to dry during this process, the germination will be delayed or, in most cases, ended. To keep the soil moist, mix the growing medium with water, enough so that if a handful is squeezed, a small dribble of water will run out. After mixing, sow your seeds accordingly and then cover the containers with clear plastic, this can be anything from freezer bags, plastic wrap, or the clear domes which come with some of the large white holding trays. 

Germinating seed animation

Here is a little animation of a Sweet 100 Tomato seed that has just germinated. 

Images were recorded every 1/2 hour
for 3 hours or 8 images

Using the plastic covering will help to keep the moisture and humidity in the soil. If you find the soil drying out due to the constant heat, use a water bottle which will provide a fine mist or watering can with a gentle nozzle, as to not disturb or bury the seed deeper. After germination, be sure to remove the plastic and place plants under grow lights in a bright, south facing window. 

After Germination 

Lighting is critical when starting plants indoors. Without sufficient light, your plants will become tall and leggy, which in turn will make them prone to bending and breaking. When growing plants indoors, make sure you have at least a bright south facing window along with an adjustable fluorescent light suspended from the ceiling, or use a table top or shelf style of lighting stand to hang over the seedlings. Young seedlings will require 16 hours of light and the plants must be 3-4” from the lights at all times for proper growth.

Feeding plants, whether they are in the garden or growing as transplants indoors, is important. You will need to start fertilizing young seedlings with a mild or small dose of a balanced fertilizer. Some fertilizers include fish emulsion, compost tea and blended fertilizers such as 20-20-20 or 15-30-15. Which ever fertilizer you use, be sure to dilute to half the strength for the first few feedings and then gradually work up to full strength. Feed plants weekly.

Watering transplants can be a tricky job. Make sure the planting mix never dries out, but doesn’t get too wet either. Usually when the top 1/2 - 1” of the soil appears dry, you should water. Use a mister or a fine stream watering can to water tender seedlings. To water from below, place pots or containers in a plastic tray and fill to about 1/2-1” with water. Any container that has drainage holes will take the water up through via capillary action. Fiber pots and packs will absorb the water and gradually dampen the soil. Watering from below helps to prevent ‘dampening off’, a common disease that attacks young seedlings, by causing a rot at the base of the plant along the soil line. This disease can run ramped through a greenhouse if not kept under control. If 'dampening off' has been a problem for you, you can use a preventative fungicide called "No Damp". It is easy to use, inexpensive, and almost guaranteed to prevent this disease. 


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