Seattle Gardening; Starting seeds indoors
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EDITORS NOTE: This is the first in a series of columns prepared by the staff at the award winning West Seattle Nursery. The Nursery is open for shopping, following COVID guidelines and they offer an array of trees, shrubs, bedding plants, garden supplies, decor and gift items. They are located at 5275 California Ave SW and you can find them online at https://www.westseattlenursery.com
If you’re anxious to get started on your spring garden, consider starting seedlings indoors. If you plant seeds by the end of February, seedlings will be ready to transplant outdoors in 4 - 8 weeks, depending on the variety, when the soil and daytime temperatures are warmer.
Vegetable crops well suited to indoor planting are: basil, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, tomatoes, peppers and lettuce. Flowers to start indoors include: begonias, bee balm, black-eyed Susans, marigolds, snapdragons, stock, verbena and zinnias.
What you need to get started:
- Clean potting soil or seed starter mix.
- Trays and containers for planting. You can purchase these at any garden center or use your own. Many gardeners save yogurt containers and cardboard egg cartons just for this purpose. Just be sure your containers are clean so disease and pests aren’t a problem. Fill containers with soil and set them in a tray to make them easy to move around and to catch water that drains off after watering.
- A good light source for at least 12 hours a day. Even if you have a sunny southern exposure, days are not quite long enough yet, and rainy days aren’t bright enough. Without adequate light, plants become weak and leggy. Use grow lights or adjustable desk lamps and position them just above the trays.
- Seeds will germinate best in a space with temperatures at or above 70 degrees. If you set your trays in a cool or unheated room, consider using an electric heat mat under them to warm the soil.
Caring for your seedlings:
- Be careful with watering. The most common mistake is overwatering. Be sure the soil is drying out before you water.
- Good air circulation is important to prevent a fungal disease called “damping off.” This disease will cause your seedlings to wilt and collapse suddenly. If you find this happening, dispose of the sick plants, move your trays, and find a way to improve air flow.
- As your plants grow, they may lean in the direction of bright light. Rotate the trays so they stay headed upward , not sideways.
When to plant outside:
- Look at the transplanting instructions on your seed packets. Depending on the variety, you may be able to move some plants outside in just 4 weeks. Others, like peppers and tomatoes, won’t be ready for transplanting until warm days in May.
- Before you plant seedlings out in open ground, you’ll need to “harden” them off. Hardening off is the process of acclimating plants to the great out-of-doors. You’ve kept them safe and warm indoors, and they aren’t ready for wind that can dry them out, or sun that will burn their leaves. Start by taking your trays outside during the day, for a short time, and put them in a spot with filtered sunlight. Gradually extend the amount of time they are out during the day. After two to three weeks, try leaving them out overnight. Hardening off will take at least a couple of weeks, longer for tender plants like tomatoes, basil and peppers.