I’m headed into my second year of cultivating vegetable and flower gardens… and a second year of gardening in a pandemic! I expect, much like 2020, this year is going to be a great year for new gardeners as so many people are drawn to outdoor activities with social distancing. If you’re a beginner gardener, like me, you might find all of the gardening information out there overwhelming. So much advice, contradicting information, and so many choices and things to do! I’m still learning, which is part of what makes gardening enjoyable, but I do have some knowledge to share. So, for all you looking to get going on sowing, here are my 6 tips for starting seedlings for beginner gardeners!
For more gardening posts see:
- Five Gardening Goals for 2021
- First Year as a Beginner Gardener
- My Flower Show – A Tour of the Flowers in my Garden
The best tip I have is to plan ahead. A to-do list, growing wish list, and calendar will keep you focused and motivated. A little bit of organisation will help you look after your seedlings and grow a thriving garden. Climate change is making it increasingly difficult to determine when is the appropriate time to start sowing. Nonetheless, you should still know your approximate last frost date (UK map here). Keep an eye on the forecast. If the temperature is expected to dip below freezing, wait another week or two before starting your seeds.
Any experienced gardener will tell you that January/February is the time to sort through your existing seed stores, shop seed catalogues, and plan out what you intend to grow next spring. I keep a list of annual plants (both flowers and vegetables) I want to grow for the year in a memo on my phone. This list is broken down by what month the seeds need sowing indoors, and then transplanting, or direct sowing. The back of the seed packet will tell you whether the crop can be direct sown, or needs to be started indoors, and when. This will help you plan your planting calendar.
I wouldn’t bother spending money on fancy module trays. Most gardeners have small pots lying around from previous garden centre purchases, and I picked up lots of small pots for free! Yogurt pots and milk cartons work well as seed starters, especially for seedlings with deep roots. Just make sure you add drainage holes! I didn’t have much luck growing in cardboard tubes. They dried out quickly and didn’t break down well once I transplanted the seedlings.
Harden off Seedlings
Pet your plant babies! Lightly brushing or tickling the leaves helps strengthen your seedlings. Once the risk of frost is over, and your seedlings have true leaves, they should then go outside on short daily field trips to get used to the elements. If your seeds are already outside (e.g. direct sown) protect them with covers if the temperature drops.
Ventilation after Germination
Damping-off is caused by poor air circulation and excess moisture. If you are using a greenhouse style seed starter, remember to open the vents/remove the lid once the seeds have germinated. If the seedlings start struggling for air and light, they will get leggy (long white stems).
To Direct Sow or Start Indoors?
The mistake Lucy and I made last year was starting some flower seeds indoors which really should have been direct sown. There were too many seeds in the pots and transplanting was a very tedious exercise! If you’re starting seeds indoors, sow modestly. Too many seedlings can become overwhelming to look after when they start taking over your windowsill.
Rotate your Seedlings
Plants will naturally bend towards a light source. Rotating the pots in a circular pattern daily can help strengthen seedling stems. If you have several rows of seedlings on a window sill, rotate the rows so that the seedlings at the back get a chance for more sunlight!
Don’t want to spend money on seed packets? Try: Re-Growing Vegetables from Food Waste
How to prick out seeds with Monty Don https://www.gardenersworld.com/how-to/grow-plants/how-to-prick-out-seedlings/
Multisowing with Charles Dowding https://charlesdowding.co.uk/multisowing/
Starting seeds under grow lights with Kevin at Epic Gardening: