There’s an art to planting and growing seedlings

March 5, 2014
When the seedlings grow, they will send their roots down into the rich potting soil.

There is a skill and art to hunting.  And there is a difference between hunting for sport and hunting for food. Years ago, when hunters fired gunshots at game merely for food, without regard to skill or sportsmanship, the idea was merely to fill the cooking pot, and so our modern phrase “pot shot” was born.  Potshot soon came to mean any easy target, literally gunshots fired at an animal or person within easy range, such as an ambush.  The other common “pot,” meaning marijuana, dates to 1938, most likely a shortened form of Mexican Spanish word for marijuana leaves: “potiguaya.”

Not to take a pot shot at procrastinating gardeners, but this is time for seed starting - literally to pot things up. You can use individual pots, cell packs that usually hold six or 12 individual plants, or small boxlike structures called seed  flats.

Planting and growing your own seedlings can be rewarding as you see your garden grow from start to finish.  If you want to grow one of the more unusual vegetables you may have no choice but to grow your own.  No single nursery could possible grow out and sell every one of the thousands of varieties of flowers or vegetables available as seed.  Starting seeds indoors lets you get a head start in your garden.

Without taking any pot shots at early birds, one of biggest mistakes we gardeners make when starting seeds is sowing the seeds too early.

Most annuals can’t stand cold weather, so setting them out too early stresses the plants.  When plants are stressed they are more susceptible to pests and disease.   The longest you should try to grow most plants indoors is four to six weeks after you start the seeds.

Seeds and seedlings are highly vulnerable to fungus, especially a fungus called damping off.  Cleaning and sanitizing your pots and containers is crucial if you want to prevent fungal infections.

If the pots or containers can safely be put in an oven, heat them to 170-180 F degrees for five minutes.

Unfortunately many seed-starting items are not ovenproof so you need to sanitize them with liquids.

Scrub the containers with mild dish soap and water. Rinse well, then soak in nine parts water and one part mild chlorine bleach. Let them soak in the bleach solution for at least 15 minutes.  Rinse them in clear water and let them air dry.

Fill the flats or pots halfway with potting soil. Fill the top half of the containers the rest of the way with sterile seed-starting mix.  Now when the seeds sprout in the loosen seed-starting mixture they are not in danger of hosting the deadly damping off fungus.  When the seedlings grow, they will send their roots down into the rich potting soil.

You can also use all seed starter mix without any potting soil.  Check to see if the mix contains any nutrients, some are the equivalent of pure sand, and you will have to feed the plants immediately.

Since organic fertilizers release nutrients slowly, they are ideal for starting seedlings.  This reduces the risk of burning the roots and killing the new plants.

You can give them an organic tea made of compost, aged manure or liquid fish emulsion soaked in water.  Once a week apply liquid kelp, fish emulsion or 3-3-3 organic liquid fertilizer.  Buy your rare annual seeds now, get out the flats and pots. Count backwards six weeks from the date you want to set your plants out in the garden.  Plant only after that date.  After all, you don’t’ want your potting plans to go to pot.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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