What Seedlings Really Want
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Let there be light
See that photo above? Now that's a healthy batch of seedlings! And they're loving the light. Lack
of adequate light however, results in pale, leggy and weak seedlings, which is a huge disappointment
to many gardeners. Because seedlings require more intense light than full-grown
plants, 14 to 16 hours a day is ideal.
Seedlings need 14 to 16 hours of light per day
Better still, raise your seedlings under fluorescent lights. You don't need an expensive setup because shop lights work just fine. Adjust the height of your lights so they remain about four inches above the tops of the seedlings.
Water is the highway that delivers nutrients, and seedlings need a steady supply of it. Keep soil moist, not soggy, and never, never, NEVER let it dry out. Check seedlings daily, mist them often and use room temperature water. Later, as seedlings mature, try to water from the bottom to encourage roots to "reach for it."
TIP: Drying soil is hard to detect visually, so do the bread test: The soil's surface should feel as moist as a slice of fresh bread. For another check, lift containers to sense their weight. Remember, light means dry.
Take their temperature
Most seeds germinate, and seedlings thrive, in a temperature range of 65 to 75 degrees F. Doc and Katy Abraham refined it further with their own experience. "The secret is to maintain 72 degrees, day and night." Exceptions include lettuce, parsley, cabbage and other cool weather plants that prefer cooler growing conditions. Once they reach two to three inches in height, they prefer cooler temperatures, say 50 to 60 degrees (or even less in some climates).
Proper ventilation is critical for healthy seedlings, helping them breathe by circulating carbon dioxide and oxygen. Moving air also prevents damping-off disease and it keeps pests at bay. A small fan is all you need to strengthen stems and prepare them for real outdoor breezes.
No junk food served here
Just like children, a healthy diet is important for proper development. When seedlings reach about two inches tall and have developed their second set of leaves (also called their true leaves), they appreciate small doses of plant food. Use an organic kelp-fish emulsion, kelp or compost tea, or a balanced plant food blend such as PlanTea.
Time to plant outside? Wait for a cloudy day
Before transplanting seedlings in the garden, they need to adjust to the great outdoors. This gradual process, called hardening-off, takes about a week. On Day One, set your seedlings outside in a shady, windfree area. After 2 or 3 hours, bring them back inside. Don't rush things. These are couch-potato seedlings and they're not used to the big outdoors. Increase the outdoor time gradually over the next few days.
Transplant seedlings on a cool, overcast day, or in the early evening. Bright, sunny, warm days are a recipe for failure. After transplanting, keep soil damp until plants are established. Shield seedlings from wind, frost, heavy rain and hot sun with mini-tents, row covers or plastic milk jugs, minus their bottoms.
I'll finish with a word of encouragement: For those of you who never advanced beyond planting sunflower seeds in milk cartons during grade school, talk show host Ruth Page says you shouldn't fret. "If you've never started seeds don't worry too much about it. Remember, nature has designed them to want to grow. You and the garden seeds have exactly the same goal... what could be more reassuring?"
I hope this article was helpful. Cheers and blessings to you,
P.S. You might also enjoy these articles I selected from my collection:
Seeding Is Believing! A complet (and easy!) step-by-step guide for growing your own bedding plants
Aspirin Water Aids Plants: Research, interview and links
Why Grow Your Own (Reason #25): Even just a teensy-weensy bit
Chocolate Beet Brownies: They can't be beat! All about beets and a recipe to fool skeptics
Thanks for visiting and please stop by again. I'll put the coffee on!
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