48March 30, 2011

Starting Your Vegetable and Annual Flower Plants Indoors

At this point, we are about 8 weeks from Memorial Day. Since Memorial Day is the time we plant the majority of our vegetable plants and most of our annual flowers, now is the time to start those plants from seed. It’s pretty cold outside, so that means we have to start those plants indoors.

It takes about 8 weeks to raise a tomato plant from seed. You need enough time for the seed to sprout and for the plant to be large enough to put outside without the plant getting too tall and floppy. This holds true for most of the other vegetable plants. Anything in the cucumber and squash family needs only 4 weeks to grow to size. Most of your annual flowers need the 8 weeks to grow to transplanting size.

If you want to start your plants indoors, you need a proper growing environment. The seeds need temperatures in the mid 60-degree range and they need about 6 hours or more of sunshine. To get that much sunshine, you will need to grow the plants near a south or west-facing window. If you don’t have these conditions, there are things you can do to create these conditions. To get the warmth needed, you can use a heat mat. This mat is placed under the pots or trays that you would use to start the plants. The mat warms the soil and keeps the soil at an even temperature. You can use grow lights to produce the amount of light and the intensity of light that will allow the plants to grow properly. With the use of the heat mats and the grow lights, you can grow your plants just about anywhere in the house.

When you start your plants, you need a soil that will allow the plants to sprout and to grow a strong root system. Many companies make what is called a seed starting soil. This soil contains no “dirt”. If you use a soil that contains topsoil or any kind of loam, you run the risk of your plants dying from a disease called damping off. This disease causes the plants to rot right at the soil line. The plants soon flop over and die. Using the seed starting soil will prevent this disease from happening.

There are all types of containers you can use to grow your plants. I always get the question ”What is the best container to use?” Truthfully, the best container to use is the one that allows you to grow the best plants. Everyone who grows plants from seed seems to develop a favorite container. As long as the container has drainage, you can use just about any container. The container needs to be large enough to allow the plant to develop a large enough root system to support the plant. Many gardeners will start seedlings in small containers to save space and then move the seedlings into larger containers, as the plants get larger.

Another thing to remember is that seed starting soils don’t have a large amount of fertilizer in the soil. This means that you have to supply the nutrients that the plants need to grow. There are many different types of fertilizers that you can dissolve in the water that you use to water the plants. All you need to do is to follow the directions on the package to make sure you are diluting down the fertilizer enough and that you are applying it at the right interval to allow the plants to achieve optimum growth.

Once you get to planting time, you cannot just take your plants from inside and place them into the ground. The plants won’t be able to take the intensity of the sun and wind that happens in the garden. The plants need to go through a process called hardening off. To do this you need to place the plants outdoors for 15 minutes the first day and then bring the plants back inside. You will be increasing the time the plants spend outside each day. After about a week of doing this, your plants will be able to take being outside all the time.

Starting plants from seed is one way to exercise your green thumb at this time of the year. About the only plants you can put outside now are pansies and they are available now at our store. Other than that, we just have to wait for spring to truly arrive.

Well, that’s all for this week. I’ll talk to you again next week.

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