No worries! Your seedlings are still safe and warm inside where they should be beginning to germinate and sprout. And, growing seeds can make you feel a lot like a kid on Christmas morning! When you start to see the first signs of life in your seed trays, it's like waking up to your gifts under the tree. You can wait to see what's in them! But unlike your gifts, which are usually just something to entertain or clothe you, these gifts have to be taken care of, kinda like that puppy that you thought was such a great idea to get the kids...
Starting your seedlings indoors is one thing, but getting those delicate little seedlings to survive the 6-8 weeks before you can plant them into the garden is another thing. There are tons of problems that can happen between the time that seeds germinate, and the time you actually plant them into the garden. Much care has to be taken or your seedlings won’t be strong enough to survive the transition to the garden.
Seedlings prefer consistently moist soil. Soil can dry out very quickly in our dry, winter climate. But, before you go crazy with the watering can, seedlings don’t do well is really wet conditions either. Soggy soil promotes pest infestations and diseases like damping off that can kill your seedlings and make all your efforts for not. The best way to prevent overwatering them is by pouring water into the bottom of the seedling tray and then allowing the soil to absorb it. This will allow the root systems to absorb as much as they need. Any water that’s not absorbed after 30 minutes should be dumped out to allow the root systems to breathe.
Breathing and ventilation is also a very important consideration for your seedlings as they sprout and grow. Your seedlings should be placed in a well-ventilated area to help strengthen the stems and prevent mold growth. If you have them in a room that is shut off from the rest of the house, just placing an oscillating fan in the room will help accomplish this.
If there’s more than one seedling growing per seed cell you should. I know this can be a traumatic process to choose who survives after all the tender care you have provided, but it’s very important for growing strong seedlings. If you don’t thin your seedlings, they will start to compete with each other for light, water, and nutrients. You should start thinning them out once they have their second set of leaves. This is definitely a survival of the fittest situation. You will need to sacrifice the weak to maintain the strong.
Once your seedlings begin to grow their true leaves, it’s time to start fertilizing them. It’s best to start with a weak dose of liquid fertilizer at first, and slowly increase the strength of the fertilizer as your seedlings grow larger. I try to keep things as natural as possible so I prefer using natural, organic fertilizers rather than chemicals. Not only are chemical fertilizers notorious for burning seedlings, they don’t work as well. A good organic liquid fertilizer that can be watered down for seedlings is put out by Fox Farm. I try to stay away from fish based products until I move my plants outside. My wife stays happier that way. :)
Seedlings can handle being kept in their original containers for several weeks, as long as you keep them watered. The general rule is that once the seedlings have grown to be about twice as tall as the height of the seedling trays, then they should be transplanted into bigger pots. Once they reach that height, if it’s going to be more than a week or two before you’re able to plant them into the garden, you might want to consider repotting seedlings into slightly larger containers to give them room to grow.
The last step in preparing your seedlings for their outdoor living space is to make sure they are hardy enough to survive the transplant. Once the weather warms to a consistent 50 degrees, put your seedlings outside in a shady location for several hours each day. As much as possible in Nebraska, keep them protected from sun, wind and heavy rain. Gradually expose them to the sun over several days. Be sure to keep in mind that the soil will dry out much faster outside so the seedlings may need to be watered more than once a day I usually water mine before I leave for work in the morning and when I get home at night.
Planting seedlings indoors can be a labor-intensive venture but the returns are worth your investment!
Until Next Time...