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10 tips to successful seed starting

Pressing seeds down to assure good seed/soil contact will improve your success rate. (Forum News Service file photo)

And so, the season has started. Our seeds have been delivered, our schedule has been planned, and the soil-less mix and plug trays have arrived...it is time to start seeds!

Each year, we start countless thousands of flower and vegetable seeds to plant in our growing fields and garden from April — August, and each year I learn something new. Successes and failures are all part of gardening, and it's the notes we take and records we keep that help us to make good decisions and firm plans for the coming years. As they say, "the devil is in the details!"

If you want to try your hand at seed starting this year, here are a few tips to steer you down a successful path.

1. Keep records to allow for better planning: record when seeds are sown, the germination date and success rate, when seedlings are ready for transplanting, and where you purchased the seed. These observations help you make adjustments for next year to ensure your plants are grown under optimum conditions.

2. Use fresh seed when possible. Germination can be greatly reduced when using old seed. If you are saving seed, make sure it is stored in a cool, dark, dry place.

3. Use a sterile container. Whether you are re-using cell packs, yogurt containers or new flats and liners, make sure your containers are clean and free of debris. Plastic containers retain moisture more consistently than clay pots.

4. Use a sterile, soil-less potting mix to avoid damping off and other diseases that can be transmitted through other types of soil.

5. Pay attention to planting instructions, some seeds require light to germinate, others prefer dark. Press seeds down to assure good seed/soil contact, and lightly cover with fine vermiculite or potting mix to help retain moisture. Don't plant too deeply!

6. Cover your planted seeds with clear plastic wrap or a clear domed lid to retain moisture and humidity. Once the seeds have germinated, you can remove these.

7. Pay attention to temperature requirements, some seeds require chilling to germinate (delphinium and larkspur), others require heat (peppers).

8. Place your planted seeds under fluorescent shop lights. (We use 40 watt, 4 foot long lights. Make sure your bulbs are clean!) Lower lights to no more than 4 inches above your seed trays. Lift the lights as the seedlings grow.

9. After 30 days, fertilize your seedlings with half-strength 10-10-10 fertilizer. (Fish emulsion, seaweed and other organic concoctions can be stinky indoors.)

10. Keep your seedlings adequately watered and fed until they are ready to transplant outdoors. Don't let them dry out or sit in water for too long. Just like Goldilocks, seedlings like an environment that's "just right."

For more information about planting seeds, visit www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/flowers/starting-seeds-indoors.

Good luck with all your seeding adventures! Until next time, happy gardening!