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3 Seed-Starting Mistakes to Avoid

By Ashleigh Smith, True Leaf Market
Photographs courtesy of True Leaf Market

When it comes to gardening, it isn’t uncommon for people to start off with young starts purchased from a local nursery. Starts are wonderful, yet there is something truly special about growing a garden from seeds. While the seasoned gardener may have this process down to a science, it can be a little tricky for newcomers to know the “what, when, and how” behind seed starting. The good news is you can experience success by avoiding the three most common mistakes gardeners make when growing a garden from seed.

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First, pay attention to the amount of time required when starting indoors. Once your seeds are started, it is important to care for them in a way that stimulates healthy growth. There are a dozen things that can go wrong throughout the seed-starting process, but a few simple choices when it comes to daily care can dramatically increase your chances of success.

Then, don’t throw all that hard work to the wind – literally! Transplanting new seedlings without an adequate adjustment period can leave your new plants susceptible to damage and shock. Adjusting new seedlings to the ever-changing outdoor environment is pivotal to growing a successful garden from seed.

Now, what exactly do we mean by “timing is key?” Every plant has its own timetable and conditions that need to be met for a successful harvest. Many new gardeners are tempted to start all of their seeds at the same time. This is a big mistake! Instead, start by identifying your last spring frost date. This is the most common benchmark used to identify planting and harvesting timeframes. Then, identify if a seed should be started indoors, or if it is better directly sown. Most vegetables are best started indoors, with the exception of corn, which should always be directly sown.

Next, consider how many weeks each plant type should spend indoors before being transplanted. This time can vary greatly from one to four months. Simply familiarize yourself with each plant you intend to grow and create a planting timeline to stay organized. There are many digital garden planners available to help you design and track your garden's progress.

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Once you get the seeds started, it's time to keep them healthy. One of the biggest mistakes made when caring for young seedlings is overhead watering. Overhead watering is not recommended once the seedlings have emerged from the soil as it can lead to underwatering, disease, and pest problems. Instead, gardeners should bottom water. This process involves nestling a tray with holes inside another one without holes to easily add water to a tray or drain excess away. Various seed starting tray inserts can be used while encouraging healthy root development.

By keeping the foliage dry, you are lowering the risk of fungus and mildew growth that can threaten young seedlings. This can be especially beneficial when growing in a warm environment, or a location with poor air circulation. Mold and mildew thrive best on soil and foliage in warm, humid conditions with little airflow.

Once the plants are growing and developing strong stems, foliage growth, and potential bud development, you don’t want to spoil your crops by exposing them to the elements too soon. Just as newborn babies have tender skin, young plants have delicate structures. Transplanting before they are hardened off can lead to shock, wind or rain damage, and an inability to regulate internal systems. The hardening-off process involves exposing the plants to increasing amounts of time outdoors over one to two weeks. Simply starting with a few hours is enough to trigger the cell walls to start thickening, creating a calloused effect on the foliage. Waiting to transplant until this effect has occurred reduces the potential damage of transplant shock.

Because seeds started indoors face little environmental change, it is up to the grower to introduce factors that mimic or gradually expose the growing seedling to the adverse conditions it will experience outdoors. To develop stronger plants, fans may be introduced into the growing environment to mimic wind and encourage stronger root development.

Growing vegetable garden seeds requires more than simply sticking a seed into some soil and hoping for the best. It is an opportunity to foster growth through mindful care and attention from sowing to harvest. This is the real experience gained by growing from seed: A genuine connection with the delicate processes and elements that make up our ever-available modern food sources. From birth to death, life is truly a delicate matter in all forms. Learn more:

Ashleigh Smith is the Managing Editor at True Leaf Market with a bachelor's degree in Horticulture from Brigham Young University - Idaho. True Leaf Market is a nationally certified organic, non-GMO seed and horticultural company based in Salt Lake City, Utah. The True Leaf Market staff specializes in supplying a large selection of conventional, heirloom, and organic seeds to home gardeners everywhere. Learn more about our seeds, supplies, and other growing ideas:

All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.

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GardenSMART Featured Article

By Delilah Onofrey, Suntory Flowers
Photographs courtesy of Suntory Flowers

Now is the time to shop for annuals that will go the distance all summer. Suntory Flowers has a portfolio of gorgeous varieties that thrive in the heat. To learn more, click here for an interesting article.

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