Simple steps can ensure success for your seedlings

Some plants require an early start to flower in one season but on the whole, most annuals benefit from a later start

It’s recommended to move young plants outdoors on a cloudy and calm day

Birth is miraculous. Dropping a seed into starter compost is not. It’s simply fun, an act so loaded with hope and belief that I often wish seeding could go on the whole year. It doesn’t, for most people. Like spring, seeding comes in a rush. Suddenly, entirely, the season is upon you, almost as if you weren’t paying attention, as if you hadn’t noticed the sequence of crocus/daffodil/tulip (but you had!), and you wonder where the time went, why you’re already – so soon in the gardening year, behind.

Let me tell you: you’re not. Or at least, not quite. Don’t panic just yet.

Some plants require an early start to flower in one season – biennials you trick, perennials you push – but on the whole, most annuals benefit from a later start. And a start not indoors, but out.

I can hear the tomato aficionados grumbling ‘nay’. To them I say: Go to the farmers’ market. Buy seasoned starts.

Picture this: A sunny windowsill, trays of soil lined up, tags labelled, seeds sown. Three weeks later? Your babies are screaming for more light. There are rows of them too, leaning, careening, stretching their little stems to the sun. So you move the trays to various south-facing windows in the house, fretting when you’re not home. Are they roasting in mid-afternoon? Yes.

On grey days, you can just picture your seedlings flopping over, sappy, wan. You rush home to turn your trays to the ever-shifting light and have to admit: leggy is something you always wanted to be, but your seedlings? Maybe not.

A healthy seedling hasn’t been coddled in the heat, but rather stands stout and robust, with a short stem and two small leaves. The small leaves will give way to two ‘true’ leaves, leaves that look like the plants’. When the seedling has grown one or two sets of these true leaves, you’re ready to transplant. This is the preschool phase, when the miracle of birth is gilded by memory and you realize a bunch of babies means a lot more space and resources than you had planned. In other words, a windowsill will no longer work.

Here’s how I start my seeds: continually. Before I had a greenhouse, I hoped for the best in the house. My potting shed/garage was too cold to give me the temperatures required for germination, so I planned, planted and hoped: every weekend all spring long. As soon as the seedlings lifted their heads up from the dark, I brutally sent them outside. Well, not quite outside: I put them under cover in a low plastic-covered tunnel heated with Christmas lights at night. You could use a cold frame or a greenhouse if you’re lucky enough to have one. And you could use a heating mat for controlled germination, or thermometers, or grow lights indoors, or any number of gadgets you got at Dig This.

But the easiest and least expensive way to start seeds is to pay close attention – every day – and send your babies out in the world when young. They may be shocked a bit, being thrown outdoors, so avoid direct sun and wind; put them outside on a cloudy and calm day first. Do this for a few days (not nights, at first), acclimatizing them to the wind and light. (Gardeners call this gradual adjustment ‘hardening  off’.)

And follow directions: if a seed packet says you can sow outdoors, do. It’s far easier to blame slugs for failure than it is yourself.

Christin Geall teaches creative nonfiction at the University of Victoria and is an avid gardener.

 

Just Posted

With $4M investment, Camosun College offers first sonography program on Vancouver Island

Starting in May 2020 students from Vancouver Island can pursue a career in sonography

Greater Victoria developer rushes to demolish historic wall before Oak Bay applies heritage permit

Abstract Development punches holes in one of Oak Bay’s oldest stone walls

School district launches survey for George Jay Elementary name change

The Greater Victoria School District wants to take public cues before decisions are made

$775-million wastewater project on track to be completed on time, within new budget

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins praises public education aspect of project

Regional naturalists cook up four spook-tacular forest events

CRD’s kid-friendly events feature Halloween activites, costume contest, guided walks

Scheer, Trudeau, Singh haggle over potential minority government outcome

If you believe the polls, it appears the Liberals and Conservatives are neck-and-neck

POLL: Do you think the day of the federal election should be a statutory holiday?

Increasing voter turnout has long been a goal of officials across the… Continue reading

Canucks beat Stanley Cup champs 4-3 in a shootout

Leivo nets winner, Vancouver dumps St. Louis for fourth straight win

Campbell River homicide suspects arrested in Vancouver

Two men remain in custody, but have not been charged

‘The more you test, the more you find’: Beef recalls a sign of success, experts say

Despite appearances, experts say a recent rise in major recalls is not a sign of food supply problems

Elizabeth May confirms plan to eliminate fish farming in open ocean pens

Green Party leader stops in Qualicum Beach as part of Island campaign

STRIKE: WFP and USW are back at the table for mediation

“No further updates until either an agreement is reached or one party or the other breaks off talks”

Green Party leader Elizabeth May rolls through Vancouver Island to boost a party stronghold

Mocks media, evokes Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and promises change

Japanese buyer expands wood pellet contract with B.C.’s Pinnacle

Mitsui and Co. increases contract with Interior energy producer

Most Read