Get a jump on spring; start seeds indoors
Story and photo provided by the Northern Neck Master Gardeners
If tending houseplants and cleaning garden tools is just not enough for you, consider starting seeds for your vegetable and flower gardens. Many seeds are very easy to germinate. You will need a sunny, warm spot, seed-starting medium,pre- pots or containers. The choices for seed containers are numerous, ranging from peat pots, plastic or clay pots, cell packs and self-watering trays. Review your seed packet or catalog to determine if your seed has any special requirements for pre-soaking, temperature ranges, or light. Following these guidelines will help the seed to germinate and grow successfully.
Seeding: The proper time for sowing seed depends upon when plants may safely be moved outdoors. The average last frost date in the Northern Neck is April 10 to 21. Typically, seedlings need four to 12 weeks prior to transplanting outdoors. Using the information on the seed packet, calculate backwards from the last frost date to determine when to plant the seed. Some transplants require a warm soil temperature, tomatoes and peppers are good examples. A common mistake is to start seeds too early. Contact the Northumberland County Extension Office at 804-580-5694 for a recommended planting schedule specific to our area.
Planting Medium: Master Gardener John Lunsford advises: “The importance of using a sterile, soilless growing medium cannot be over-emphasized.” The basic ingredients are sphagnum peat moss and vermiculite which are generally free of diseases, weed seeds, and insects. These mixes are available locally and also can be ordered online. Fill the containers to within ¼ inch of the top but don’t pack the medium.
Environmental Factors: An adequate, continuous supply of water is necessary to ensure germination. Moist, but not soggy, medium can be maintained by covering the container with plastic wrap. Remove as soon as the seeds sprout to prevent fungal disease. Review the seed packet to identify the light needs of the seeds. Grow lights can provide supplemental light if needed. A favorable temperature is also required for germination. Setting the seed trays in a warm spot or providing a heat mat will aid in germination. Oxygen is also needed, so make sure your medium is loose and well-aerated. Have fun and think spring!