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Seed Starting Steps!

Judy Wagley

JW: It may be a good idea to get a jump start on your garden by starting some seeds indoors, but when is the best time to do it and how do we get started? I'm Judy Wagley, this is “From the Ground Up!” Janice Jenkins from Elm Creek Garden Center in Farwell has been starting her seeds indoors for years-- and she knows the drill. Thanks for joining me today, Janice.

Janice Jenkins takes care of LOTS of seeds at Elm Creek Garden Center in Farwell!
Judy Wagley
Janice Jenkins takes care of LOTS of seeds at Elm Creek Garden Center in Farwell!

JJ: Yes, thank you. This is an exciting time!

JW: Yes, it is. As we look forward to spring, why might we want to start some of our own seeds indoors?

JJ: Well, there's a lot of great reasons for starting seeds. Of course-- it's your own. You know what you've done, you know what you've grown, you know how you've started them. So it's kind of a thrilling thing to do.

JW: Yes, it is great to see something pop out of the soil, especially in the winter time.

JJ: Oh absolutely-- seeing green is a great feeling!

JW: Janice, what are some easy things to start indoors?

JJ: Well, for seed reasons, I think the easiest one and the one that everybody loves to do is tomatoes. They love peppers, flowers, you know, like marigolds. But there are some difficult ones to grow too. You know, if you're not a great gardener, I might stay away from cabbages and Brussels sprouts. But for most people, the whole reason for starting seeds is tomatoes and peppers.

JW: How do we get started? Do we need special equipment?

JJ: Yes! Actually not really special equipment--but things that make this whole process a whole lot easier. Soils are very important. Starting trays are important, but one of the greatest things that I like to encourage everybody is a heat mat. Most people don't realize that seeds need heat to germinate--not so much light. And then of course, a humidity dome. There's other little things like that that we like to add on to help the customer be successful.

JW: You mentioned light. Do we need a special light?

JJ: Actually, to get them germinated, it's heat and then after the plants start growing and you get that second set of leaves or the true leaves, then I usually encourage light at that point.

JW: Janice, can you take us step by step-- what you do when it comes time to start your seeds indoors?

JJ: Absolutely. It's kind of a trial and error with every seed. Of course, most of our customers start seeds way too early in the season. We don't even start them here at the garden center until later in March or the first part of April. Don't get too eager. Don't get too excited to start your seeds too early. Of course, now is not a good time to do that. Here's the steps that we like to follow. We get a good seed-starting soil--don't just use a potting soil. We want to use a seed-starting soil. So start with that. We moisten it here and we get it prepped and ready for our trays.

We fill our trays and make sure they're all the way to the top because we want to make sure that that soil is going to rest and we're not just having a little bit of soil in the bottom.

After that, we poke little holes, just like I encourage my customers to do. Plant your seeds and put a covering over the top. So your soil is moist to get them in the pots. But then we're going to put a dry layer over the top. Then we're going to use that humidity dome that I mentioned, and we put that on top. That's usually enough moisture to get your seeds started and get them germinated. If not, we open those up, we give them a mist. We don't water, we just give them a light mist. Put that dome back on top, but make sure that heat tray is always working because that heat's going to radiate up through the soil. So once we start to see that true set of leaves then you can take that dome off. Then the seed can germinate on from there without the dome on the top.

Judy Wagley

JW: Another thing I might think about is labeling all of those seeds too.

JJ: Absolutely. You know, here at the garden center, we're doing a large amount and they're all labeled on the trays. But for a homeowner, I do recommend that you put a label even if you're starting three or four little cubes of something. Still label all of them so you know what you've done--definitely.

JW: Yes. So the big thing is don't start them too early!

JJ: Absolutely. We always encourage people don't start a seed now! You're going to have this really long, straggly tomato plant that's just not going to be sturdy enough to hold up a tomato once it gets on the plant. So don't get too excited.

JW: When we do get those true sets of leaves, then what should we do?

JJ: Yeah. So once we get those true sets of leaves, which is usually your second set of leaves, and you'll see that they look differently on the plant, that's when we take that dome off. Then introduce light-- so you can either have a grow light or get them near a bright sunny window, but just make sure that if you're by a window, you’re rotating that tray because the plant's going to want to edge toward that light, and then you're going to have a crooked plant. So turn the tray-- I usually say every three to four days--turn your tray toward that light. Or if you're using a grow light, you won't have that problem.

JW: When do we get to put them outside?

JJ: Well, of course, that's all Mother Nature’s--and she plays with us here in Michigan! Where we are, it's usually mid-May, sometimes even late may, it depends on the last frost. So start those seeds about 6 to 8 weeks before we can set them out.

JW: Janice Jenkins from Elm Creek Garden Center in Farwell. Thanks for joining me today for “From the Ground Up!”

JJ: Thank you.


Judy Wagley is WCMU’s midday host, and is the producer of The Children’s Bookshelf from From the Ground Up! She guides listeners through their weekdays from 9am to 3pm.