February is a good time to plan, prep and plant your seeds indoors. Planting your seeds indoors can be an inexpensive and self-satisfying way to make your garden grow. Not only does it give you a head start on growing plants, but it can also give you an opportunity to grow different varieties of plants you would not find available in garden centers.
The rule of thumb is to start your plants indoors at least 6 weeks before your last frost date. Depending on where you live this can range anywhere from the end of February to the second week of April; you can check your zone area online to determine the average last frost date for your area. Checking the frost date for your area ensures you are not starting your plants too early. You want to produce seedlings that are mature, but not overgrown or as they say “leggy.
Seedlings that are spindly can be hard to transplant because their roots are so delicate and their stems are weak, which can make them snap. Some vegetables that can start from seeds are peppers, squash, tomato varieties and some bean varieties. Planting these vegetables early means an earlier harvest and a higher produce yield.
Now that you have a plan it is time to prep for planting; it is beneficial to start with clean containers to avoid disease or use containers that will break down in the soil. Choosing the latter will prevent you from disturbing the delicate roots and can be an easy alternative for a beginner gardener. To start your seeds it is recommended to use a soil-less medium. A sterile seed-starting mix or peat will work well because it expands when wet and because the seed contains the nutrients needed for the seedling, fertilizer isn’t necessary.
Seedlings need a lot of light; a sunny, south-facing window is perfect if you get a lot of sunny days. Most gardeners will use artificial lights so they can raise more plants and maintain constant light. As a note, lights should be 4-to-5 inches above the plants as they grow. Once your seeds germinate or produce a sprout, it is important to move them to a location that will maintain the soil temperature of about 75 degrees. At this point warmth is more important than light. Placing them on the refrigerator or near the stove can provide the heat needed to further growth. Some gardeners will purchase heat mats that are made to maintain the temperature of the soil.
One of the key ingredients to planting seeds indoors is water; it is important to maintain a moist environment that will allow seeds to germinate and grow. Watering the top of the seed starting mix can create disease such as “damping off” which is a fungus disease; it can also dislodge or damage sprouts. Maintaining a moist environment will ensure growth as long as you don’t underwater or overwater. Time and attention are needed in order to get your plants to the next step. Checking daily will make sure there is enough light and water.
Before you know it, it will be time to transplant outside. Indoor plants will need a “hardening off” before being transplanted permanently; this means you need to gradually introduce them to the outdoors which will include wind, rain and sun! Bringing them indoors during the night for about a week will help the transplant process. Once transplanted you will want to make sure they continue in a warm moist environment. Raised garden beds like our Eco Gardens are beneficial to transplanted plants because they provide a similar, warm environment compared to ground that is still cold.
Planting your seeds indoors can be intimidating but with time and experience it will become routine. It is always worth a try! Here’s to the three P’s in February and a successful garden season!