Tell any kid you’ll give them a cookie, I mean a carrot, if they will tell you how to get a seed to grow and there’s a good chance you’ll get a great answer.
“Sunlight, soil and water” is a no-brainer even to the youngest of gardeners, but there are also a few hints to starting your seeds to ensure they develop into bountiful plants.
While you know the library is a great place for books that will grow your imagination, you may not know it’s also a great stop for growing your garden!
As a collaboration between the Talbot County Free Library, University of Maryland Extension and the Talbot County Master Gardeners, you can not only get fruit, vegetable, herb and flower seeds but growing help as well at the Easton and now, St. Michaels branches.
The Start of Your Starts
After you have decided what to grow, sift through your seed packets to see what you’ll want to sow indoors earlier than planting the rest of your garden.
Aside from reading the hieroglyphics on the back of the seed packet, try using a planting chart specific to our area with all dates and guidelines in one place, like the one found on the University of Maryland’s Extension’s website.
“Some seeds can be started indoors to get a jump on the season such as tomatoes, broccoli, zinnias, etc., while some types are best sown directly in the ground like turnips, beets, carrots, root vegetables,” says Mikaela Boley, Urban Horticulture and Master Gardener Coordinator for Talbot County.
After you’ve chosen what to start early, find a spot for your plants to receive some natural sunlight, whether it’s a sunny spot in your mudroom, guest room, or bathroom.
If you have furry friends (or foes), you might learn the hard way that they love to dig through your seedlings so make sure your spot has protection from the elements and the animals!
While it’s tempting to just grab some soil from your garden, splurge on some nice potting soil — a nice sterile start will help your baby seeds grow in a germ-free environment and you won’t risk bring insect eggs into your house.
You’ll also want to wash out pots and containers thoroughly if you are reusing from prior years.
It can be a bit nerve wracking to start your seeds and you might find yourself going overboard “just in case” they don’t turn out.
But chances are, if using quality seeds that have been stored properly they are uniformly going to come up … or not.
Plant extras, if you must, with the intention of sharing your seedling bounty with friends or neighbors for their gardens.
No need to plant 20 tomato seedlings in your plot when you only intended to have four plants just because they all popped up!
In each pot, Boley recommends growing two seeds per space.
“If you sow the seeds too heavily or close together, you will get lots of seedlings competing for water, sunlight, and nutrients” which can be a losing battle.
It may seem like a no-brainer but be sure to label, label, label.
When you start to move plants around, your easy-to-remember system may escape you or the seed packet you tucked under the tray may become lost.
Stick some duct tape or medical tape with your seed types directly to your trays for a no frills yet functional label system.
While you’ve got your pen out, or your Smartphone, jot down when you started your seeds and mark down when they should be mature so you can schedule in some quality time to shift them to their new homes in your planner or planning system.
Time flies and it helps to have it written down!
Once Started
One frequent problem that folks run into is when it comes to watering.
While it’s important to have moist soil when you sow your seeds, you also don’t want it to be so wet your tiny seeds rot or wash out.
Try wetting your soil before adding your seeds, and then follow up by doing your waterings with a spray bottle to lightly spritz water to seedlings as a light spring rain would.
This is especially useful if you have a little yet heavy handed gardening helper!
If your seeds are growing but not looking sturdy as you’d hoped for transplanting, you may have to troubleshoot.
UMD Extension advises that “tall and leggy plants are usually the physiological response to not receiving enough light. Either they aren’t receiving enough light, or they could be competing with neighboring plants for sun. If these are indoor plants with a grow light, try lowering the light closer to seedlings. Then you can raise the light as the plants get taller.”
Especially with our on-and-off Maryland weather, before transplanting Boley also advies, “It’s difficult to predict and depend on the weather- as you look to transfer seedlings outdoors, spend seven to 14 days getting your plants used to outdoor conditions.
“If you take them from warm, consistent indoor temperatures and immediately place them outside, they might not survive. I recommend starting by placing them outside on warmer days, and bringing indoors when nighttime temperatures get cold. Eventually, leave them out for longer or on warmer days/nights, so they have a chance to acclimate. We call this “hardening off”, and is commonly done with tomato and pepper plants.”
If something about your seedlings is leaving you stumped, pop into the local seed libraries during their talks.
At the newly opened Seed Library at the St. Michael’s Library branch there will be a discussion on March 19 about general Spring Garden information, and the Easton branch will have a talk on April 13 about planning a Permaculture Garden.
Don’t let the time frame pass by to start your seeds indoors.
It’s a great way to kickoff your garden this year and it can be so rewarding to watch the seedlings from your windowsill turn into flourishing plants in your garden!