The first time I started plants from seed, I actually had quite a bit of success. There were a few friends who stopped by my home that first year to take some transplants off of my hands that I had started, and they often expressed their sadness of how all of their plants had come up leggy. I was confused! What was I doing differently that they weren’t? Maybe I just had a certain touch. Well, you can bet that this year I experienced my first leggy seedlings. I had decided to plant some kale in the second week of February, hoping for an early planting to happen in the garden later in March. I placed my seed tray by a south-facing window and waited, just as I had done the year before. What I did not realize that I started a bit too early, not necessarily for the plant to thrive outdoors, but for the seedlings to thrive with minimal sunlight. February is generally pretty overcast and gray! Seedlings that do not have adequate sunlight are trying their hardest to reach for any light they can get, and if it’s not a lot, then their stems turn all thing and curly. Has this happened to you? Or maybe some other problem? This list of tips is meant to help you get past some first-timer blunders and give you some new ideas for growing strong, healthy transplants. 

tamp down soil in seedling pots

Tamp Down Soil in Your Containers or Cell Packs

This is something that I completely failed at in the first year that I started plants from seed! I can remember kneeling a few beds away from my mother, who was helping me transplant, and listening to her surprised gasp. I looked up to see her holding a tiny stem and bare roots, with the potting soil mix fallen all over her lap. The soil had not been compacted, and therefore, had left a lot of air in the cell pack and not a whole lot of grip for those baby roots. Kind of traumatizing for the plant! 

Pack down the soil in your containers and then press it down a little more. This helps to eliminate air pockets, which baby roots do not like. Once you do this, planting seeds should be a breeze by using a dibber or a simple pencil to make a hole in the center for the seed to live. Cover and continue on!

Moisten Your Seed Starting Mix Before Adding Your Seeds

By watering your seed starting mix before planting in it, you are simply making less work for yourself. This can easily be done by emptying your seed starting mix into a large container like a plastic storage bin and watering until it becomes moist but excess water doesn’t drip out when squeezed. Pack this into your starting tray and then plant. This is a particularly good idea especially for small seeds that may float into the corners or wash away.

Use Bottom Heat To Speed Up Germination

While sunlight is essential for growing plants, seeds actually need warmth in the soil to germinate. This is why propagation mats are made! You can easily speed up germination by several days by setting your trays somewhere that they can receive some bottom heat, like on top of the fridge or over a heating blanket. They need somewhere between 75-85 degrees. Once they germinate, then you can remove the trays from the bottom heat and just leave the rest to the sun!

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