By Jesse Eastman
Fort Collins Nursery
Northern Colorado has a relatively short growing season. Give your plants some extra time to grow by starting your own vegetables, herbs, and flowers ahead of time from seed, and save some money while you’re at it! Here are some pointers to help your seeds thrive before spring arrives:
- Draw a plan. It’s easy to get carried away when selecting seeds. Make sure you actually have somewhere to plant everything you’re dreaming about. Measure your garden space and decide where each plant will grow. Consider how much sunlight each variety needs, whether it needs a trellis or fence to climb up, and how much growing area it will take.
- Don’t start all your seeds at once. Some plants can be transplanted outdoors before the last frost while some will need to wait longer. Some will grow slowly, some rapidly. Some seeds, such as beans, peas, carrots, and radish, are best sown directly in the garden and should not be started indoors. Check with your favorite local garden center for a seed-starting chart to ensure you’re starting the right seeds at the right time.
- Grow more seedlings than you need. Even the best gardeners don’t have a 100% success rate when starting seedlings. Since you’ll only want to plant the strongest and most vigorous plants from each group of seeds you germinate, aim for approximately 30% more seedlings than you intend to transplant into your garden. If you have extras, your friends will surely appreciate a few free plants!
- Use grow lights. Even the sunniest window is not in sunlight all day long. Add a grow light or two so your seedlings don’t get stretched out due to insufficient light. Plants grown in bright light are healthier, stronger, and easier to transplant than those that get too leggy. Set your light just far enough from the plants that they don’t burn them. I like to hang my light about 10″-12″ above my seedlings, and I raise the light as the plants grow taller.
- Use a heat mat. Most seeds germinate best when the soil is nice and warm. A seedling heat mat is a fantastic way to elevate the soil temperature and will result in a higher germination rate. Once plants have produced their second set of leaves, remove the heat mat.
- Provide humidity and airflow. Seedlings are prone to desiccating in our dry climate. Use a humidity dome to capture moisture and keep baby plants from drying out. Beware of excessive humidity, which can cause mold and other problems. To prevent mold, prop one side of the humidity dome up with a small stick, allowing fresh air to move through the growing area. If that’s not enough, set a fan five or six feet away from the growing area to move air without any intense airflow hitting the plants.
For even more tips and tricks, look for a seed starting class in your area or online, which are often available through independent garden centers and botanic gardens.