Grow: David Hillock

David Hillock

Gardening enthusiasts who have been missing that feeling of a little dirt under their nails can begin to rest easy now that spring is just a few weeks away. While you won’t be outside in your planting beds for a little longer, you can get your gardening fix by starting some spring garden plants indoors.

Sure, you can always purchase starter plants at the local nursery or gardening store, but gardeners can find great satisfaction in starting their own plants from seed. There are advantages to starting your own seeds, as well. 

Gardeners are likely to have a much wider selection of cultivars when selecting seeds over starter plants. And, as an added bonus, you can start the seeds at a time to ensure the transplants are ready when you’re ready to get out in the garden.

While gardening does require certain tools of the trade, you won’t need anything fancy to get your seeds started. You likely already have everything you need on hand. Start with some flats or expandable peat pots. You can even use individual yogurt containers or small butter dishes – just make sure they are big enough to hold enough media so the plants won’t dry out too quickly and there’s plenty of room for root development. Drill some holes in the bottom to help ensure proper drainage.

As gardeners shop for potting media, be sure to read the labels closely and choose one that says it is specifically for seeding. Also, look for a potting soil that promotes good draining and high water-holding capacity. You want the soil to hold enough moisture for seeds to germinate without drying out too fast, but also allow excess water to drain.

To plant the seeds, sow in rows 2 inches to 3 inches apart. Use tight spacing within the row. Generally, sow seeds to a depth of approximately three times the diameter of the seed. Most seeds will germinate well at a constant temperature day and night around 70 degrees. After germination, temperatures can be lowered according to the type of plant you are growing. 

Just as watering outdoors in the garden can be tricky, it can be tricky indoors as well. Overwatering in seed trays is easy to do. Keep in mind the seeds don’t use much water until they germinate and seedlings are actively growing. The tricky part is the seeds need moisture to germinate. There’s a fine line between over- and under-watering. 

One method to help avoid over-watering is to simply mist the plants with a spray bottle. Following the misting process, cover the seed tray or containers loosely with clear plastic. Check soil moisture periodically and remove the plastic once the seedlings emerge.

You can fertilize the seedlings when they’re ready to transplant outdoors. This is usually about three weeks after sowing.

In addition to water and fertilizer, light is another factor for indoor seeding. Your seedlings will need 12 to 14 hours of light per day. Although the days are getting longer, the plants won’t get enough natural light for proper growth. Supplement the natural light by using a shop light with alternating cool- and warm-white fluorescent bulbs. Incandescent lights get too hot and can burn the plants.

Place the lights within 2 inches to 4 inches of the seedlings after they emerge. Raise the lights as the plants begin to grow.

If there’s one thing you can count on in Oklahoma, it’s the wind. To help prepare the seedlings for the windy conditions outdoors, brush your hand over the plants several times at least once a day. This will help them develop into strong, stocky plants capable of tolerating windier conditions.

David Hillock is a consumer horticulturist with OSU cooperative extension.

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