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Starting Seeds Indoors

Tremendous satisfaction can be gained from growing your own plants from seeds. Some plants, like tomatoes and peppers, need to be started early by sowing seeds indoors. Ellen Speicher, Mill Creek MetroParks Assistant Horticulture Director, answers some questions about sowing seeds inside.

flrstartsQ: I want to start seeds indoors. How much light will the seedlings need?

ES: Lots! Usually more than a windowsill can provide during winter. Also, growing seedlings will lean over toward the light from a window. An inexpensive way to grow better seedlings is to provide artificial light. Set up a work light with 2 – 4 cool white bulbs and suspend the lights only a couple of inches above the seedlings. Raise the light to keep it above the plants as the seedlings grow. Your plants will grow strong and straight!

Q: Why is temperature important when starting seeds indoors?

ES: There are two different temperatures that help grow strong seedlings. First is the germination temperature, which is the temperature at which the seed sprouts best. This temperature can be higher than the temperature in your home so it helps to use a heat mat especially made for seed starting. As soon you see green growth, remove the heat mat and grow the seedlings at the second temperature range, called the “growing on” temperature. This temperature is often lower than the germination temperature and allows for strong seedling growth. Most seed packets list these temperatures, which vary depending on what plant you are growing.

Q: When should I start my seeds?

ES: Check the seed packet for the proper sow date. Often the date will be written as a certain number of weeks before the last frost in spring. Count back from the last week in May to find out which week you should start your seeds inside.

Q: What is “hardening off”?

ES: This is the process of getting your tender indoor seedlings adjusted to the outdoors. Once temperatures are warm enough to grow the plants outside, slowly adjust your plants to outdoor conditions by putting them outside for a little longer every day. Start by setting them in the shade and gradually get them used to being in the proper amount of sun.

Need seeds? Visit Fellows Riverside Gardens to borrow seeds from our new Seed Library! “Check out” donated flower, herb and vegetable seeds to take home and plant in your own garden. In the fall, harvest seeds from your plants to bring back to the library to restock the Seed Library for next year.