5 simple tips for growing starts indoors!
Spring is fast approaching the Western Slope. As the patches of snow on the ground grow smaller, and we more often venture outside with no jacket hat or scarf, gardeners are turning their eyes to the ground and dreaming of what will soon be planted.
If you’re new to gardening, you may be doing the same. But hold up! We need to go back inside to really get this season off to a good start.
Many plants will benefit from a gentle start in a controlled environment. Giving them a chance to put on some growth and develop strong roots for four to eight weeks before they go in the ground will help to ensure a good harvest later.
While starting seeds inside is a relatively simple affair, there are a few key things to keep in mind that will help you avoid common pitfalls.
- Use the right container
Ok folks, let’s get this out of the way! Friends don’t let friends start seeds in egg cartons! You’ll want to use a container that retains moisture well, with some drainage on the bottom. Disposable party cups are a good choice and they can often be re-used for more than one season. Avoid materials like cardboard or you will find yourself eternally watering. Eggcartons just lead to dried out, desiccated and dead plants!
- Choose the right soil
While many things at the garden center may not be necessary, soil less seed starter or soil less potting soil is not one of them. If growing starts indoors in containers, it is important to choose a potting soil that is formulated for growing in containers. These mixes allow for good drainage and air to get to your seedlings tender roots. Make sure to choose a potting mix that does NOT use synthetic fertilizers and is soil less. Fertilizers may burn your tender babies. We like Bomb 50/50 from Paonia Soils but there are many good choices out there these days. While it is tempting to go get some soil from your garden, that soil will not be happy in a container and will lead to waterlogged plants in stagnant water. Ick!
- Consider proper seed depth
Most seed packets will come with instructions on proper depth and spacing for the type of seed they contain, but some do not. Occasionally, the information will not be very specific. And if you are so fortunate as to be given seeds from a friend, they may arrive in a plastic bag or folded tissue with lots of love but no instructions. So it’s helpful to remember this general rule: plant seeds at a depth that is roughly twice the diameter of the seed. For instance, a seed that measures 1/16 of an inch should be planted 1/8 inch deep. Larger seeds, like beans measuring half an inch, will do best planted one inch deep. Very tiny seeds can often be placed on the surface and just dusted with soil. It’s fine to eyeball this—no need for a ruler.
- Maintain the correct moisture level
The unhelpful suggestion to just “keep seeds moist” can lead to puzzled beginners over or underwatering their seedlings. Aim for your soil mix to be like a wet, wrung-out sponge. The “squeeze test” will let you know if you’ve got the correct moisture level: take a handful of soil and squeeze it gently. If it holds its shape well, but is not dripping water, you’ve got it right. Allowing soil to get too dry in between waterings will result in stunted or dead seedlings, while overwatering will cause the delicate roots to drown. Roots need a little air to breathe and consistent, even moisture.
Our final tip is perhaps the most important:
- Give yourself permission to fail
You must fail at gardening in order to master it! – Author unknown
If you walk in one day to find your whole tray of seedlings wilted and hopeless, go easy on yourself. So much can be learned from mistakes, and EVERY gardener has made them. Even the most experienced grower will have some loss every season. Remember: you’re not just growing a garden. You’re growing a gardener. Celebrate small successes and embrace the learning process.