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ASK THE EXPERTS

Know when to start seeds, purchase plants

POSTED: March 25, 2009 4:00 a.m.

Gardeners must make a decision at this time of year. Should they purchase and plant seeds to grow transplants for the garden, or should they wait until planting time outdoors and buy started plants from nurseries and garden centers?

  

What conditions should be available to start your own seedlings?

  

First, a fairly large area of bright light is necessary. Most plants used in the flower and vegetable garden require very bright light, even as small seedlings. Plants such as impatiens that grow in the shade outdoors need plenty of light indoors.

 

For most seedlings, the light of a south or southwest window is best.

  

Artificial light sources are helpful when window light is poor or none is available. 

  

Fluorescent tubes may be used most effectively. Cool white tubes and special plant-light tubes may be used alone or in combination with each other. If fluorescent tubes are used, the seedlings should be placed only about 6 inches from them. Either make the height of the tubes adjustable or start the seedlings in pots or flats that are elevated, so they can be lowered as they grow taller to maintain the four to six inch distance from tube to plant tip. These artificial lights should be kept lit over the seedlings for 14 to 18 hours each day. Incandescent bulbs do not have a suitable light-ray balance and get too hot for good seedling growth. Where window light exists. but may not be adequate, it can be supplemented with artificial light to make a suitable light source.

  

Temperature is very important for growing vigorous seedlings. Many plants for the early, cool season garden should have already been seeded and grown, since outdoor planting time for them is about here. If they were grown or have already been purchased for later outdoor planting, they should be kept at 55 degrees at night and only slightly warmer during the day. Warm season crops, such as tomato and pepper, germinate well at 70 to 75 degrees, but must be grown cooler as soon as germination has occurred. Night temperatures slightly above 60 degrees and day temperatures at 70 to 75 are best.

  

Growing space with room for expansion is also important. As seedlings grow, they must be spaced out to avoid crowding. Room for spacing out plants where there is still very bright light is very important. Gardeners with a hotbed or cold frame have an excellent space outdoors that will both grow and harden plants to make them ready for garden planting.

  

When the right growing conditions along with adequate time and interest are available, starting seeds can be economical and rewarding. If conditions are not right or time is very limited, the results can be disappointing.  A better investment of time and money is to purchase healthy plants at the proper planting time from your local nursery and garden center.

  

Speaking of gardens, it is months away, but Dawson County Extension will once again host the annual produce market. This year’s market will begin around late June and end in September. More market details will follow.

  

Clark Beusse is the Dawson County extension agent.

 

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