Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Gardening in the Late Winter or How to Start Seeds Indoors!

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

One thing that I noticed just the other day, and you probably have too, is that seed packets are appearing in stores and catalogs are, of course, appearing in our mail.  So, what if you are getting the urge to begin gardening already and want to do something about it?  How about starting seeds indoors?  I have some tips for you!
Starting seeds indoors is about as much fun as a gardener can have in late winter!  The idea is to grow transplants or starts for 2-8 weeks (depending on the vegetable and rate of plant growth) and then plant them outdoors where the crops will mature and be harvested.  That in and of itself might be a reason for us to hold off on starting seeds this time of year, unless you have a small greenhouse that you can continue growing them in. 

Growing seedlings indoors for our gardens is something to
consider in the late winter months.  Photo courtesy of
Clemson University Extension.
A common mistake is to sow seeds too early and then attempt to hold the seedlings back under poor light or improper temperature ranges.  This can result in tall, weak, spindly plants that do not perform well in the garden.  Sow tomatoes 6-7 weeks before you expect to plant.  You will end up with stocky 8-10 in. tall plants.  If they do get too tall, you can lay them down in a trench when planting and turn the growing tip up so only the top 2-3 sets of leaves is above the soil.
Start seeds in small, individual containers.  It's best to use divided containers with a single seedling per container because otherwise the seedlings' roots will grow into each other and are likely to be injured later during transplanting.  Exceptions to this rule are onions and leeks from seed.  Most plastic seed-starting containers are reusable, but may harbor plant pathogens once used.  Sterilize used containers by soaking the cleaned cups in a solution of bleach or other disinfectant for 30 minutes, then rinse and use.

A windowsill is not a good location for starting seeds.  If you're starting only a few plants and have roomy windowsills, a south-facing window may be all the growing space you need.  However, window sills can be the coldest place in the house, especially at night, and then the hottest during the day.  It's much better to grow seedlings under fluorescent lights than to rely solely on natural light, even in a greenhouse.  Some brands of lights are sold as "grow lights," designed to provide light in specific ranges required by plants, but standard fixtures with two "cool white" fluorescent tubes per fixture also give plants adequate light and are inexpensive.
There is much, much more information out there about starting your garden from seed, but I hope I have whet your appetite a little bit with these few tips.  Please contact your local county Extension office to learn more about starting garden plants indoors.

Remember that M.S.U. Extension is there for you.  Good luck with the rest of your week.  This has been Jesse Fulbright from the Liberty County Extension office with your Tuesday Extension Minute.

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