The most common things to start your seeds in are either individual pots or seed trays. You want to start with fresh, new, sterilized containers as soil borne diseases can live from year to year and may damage your seeds before they even have a chance. Biodegradable coir pots, such as Wonder Soil 3.5” Coir Pots with Wafers, make transplant shock to the seedlings non-existent. The pots simply degrade into the soil and there are no plastic pots to store for next year. When using pots, fill the pot 3/4 full, place the seeds and then put 1/4” – 1/2” of soil on top of the seeds. Do not compact the soil on top of the seeds. Leaving it loosely covered helps with air ventilation and helps prevent damping off.
Trays are another source to get you started. This method makes it easy to start multiple types of seeds in one tray; marking each plug spot with a garden marker to note the seed type and date it was planted. A couple of tray options are the Rootrainers™ Propagation System and the Quick Start Germination Tray.
Fertilizers and Soil Mixes
Soil mixes need to provide good drainage and be free from pests and diseases. Most seed starting mixtures are light, airy and not dense, helping with drainage to prevent diseases and overwatering. It is best to not have any added fertilizers to a soil mix when starting seeds, as they can possibly “burn” new seedlings with too much nitrogen. A new soil-less product, the Wonder Soil Expanding Nutrient Cube, is created from coconut coir, providing great drainage while avoiding any harsh chemicals.
Fertilizers are not needed in the germination process of seed starting. Seeds have all the nutrients they need to get them going until their first true leaf has grown. Once the leaves are showing that the nutrients have been depleted is when fertilizers should be applied. There are many options when it comes to fertilizers such as slow-release, root boosters, and organic. Just make sure to follow the instructions on each type of fertilizer, as you don’t want to put too much on your new tender seedlings and burn them.
Heat Mats, Ventilation, Domes and Grow Lights
A heat mat can be used with both pots and trays and come in multiple sizes to accommodate any space you have. Seeds need to be at a certain temperature to germinate. Most seeds have a range from 65-85 degrees Fahrenheit, although some can germinate as low as 45 degrees. The heat mat warms your soil to the desired temperature so that seeds germinate before the possibility of damping off (fungal disease) can kill them. The quicker the seeds germinate, the sooner you can have fresh food! Hydrofarm Seedling Heat Mats come in four different sizes to fit any space, allowing you to grow on your windowsill, in the basement, garage or a hobby greenhouse.
Ventilation and domes are needed to keep humidity for the seedlings and also to create a good environment with airflow. Once again, both of these are needed to keep damping off at bay. When the seedlings have emerged from the soil, keep them covered with a dome, giving seedlings the humidity they need to continue growing. Even though the seeds need humidity, they also need good air circulation and ventilation. Once a day, remove the dome to make sure the plants are moist and haven’t dried out. Leave the dome off for a bit to give them some air. Remember, plants are living, breathing things and need oxygen just like we do. Some even suggest using a fan to increase air circulation and to help with preventing damping off.
Grow lights are used after the seedlings sprout and start to grow. The new plants will need 12 to 16 hours of light a day. Plants get a lot of nutrients from light (photosynthesis)and it is essential to their health. Even if you have a south-facing window that gets plenty of light, there is normally not 12 to 16 hours of daylight in the winter months when seed starting begins. There are lights and light carts specifically designed for growing. Our Grow Light Carts come in 4 different sizes and let you save space while vertically growing multiple trays of seeds at one time. The Mini-Greenhouse Grow Kit with Light Stand includes the tray, dome with ventilation, light, and light stand for when the plants get too tall for the dome and still need to be inside before transplanting.