Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Green with Envy Seed Starting Tips

woman in a maroon sweatshirt pointing to a table of starter plants with grow lights

Hello Fellow Readers,

I learned from Patti of Little Big Farm in Blairstown that she started seeds in early February, which piqued my curiosity; actually, it made me green with envy. Aren’t we all longing for green?

The rule of thumb is eight weeks before the last frost date is the time to start seeds indoors. Our last frost date is about May 19th, making mid-March the expected start date here in Northern New Jersey. Because Patti is in the business of growing cut flowers and an expert gardener, I might add, she wants to encourage early blooms – hence her early start. She kindly offered the following tips.

woman in a maroon sweatshirt pointing to a table of starter plants with grow lights

Patti Doell, owner of Little Big Farm.

Rather than starting seeds in planting trays with cells, Patti uses only the trays that are typically under annual flats. Thoroughly clean recycled trays with bleach mixed with water as seedlings are susceptible to disease. It’s essential to use seed starting soil, which is light in weight and holds moisture well. Traditional potting soil compacts easily and makes it hard for seeds to sprout. She makes six furrows, narrow trench-like depressions, crosswise along the tray. Seed packages tell you how deep to sow seeds and how long they will take to flower or produce fruit so you can calculate when to start seeds to meet your objectives.

Starting Seeds, Garden Dilemmas, Ask Mary Stone, Gardening tips, Garden Blogs

Patti Doell’s Seedlings

You don’t need light to germinate seeds, but you do need warmth and moisture. Patti recommends investing in heat mats to ensure successful propagation and healthy roots. They’re hard to find in stores but readily available online.

Once seeds sprout, they then need light, which is best from above. Patti suggests fluorescent or grow lights on chains suspended an inch above the plants, elevating them as plants grow. If the light source is too far away or from a window, plants will stretch towards the light and grow leggy. Also, baby plants need about 14 hours of sunlight per day, so daylight this time of the year is not long enough.

Once her seeds sprout and grow a bit, Patti transplants them. True, her furrows’ technique then transplanting is an added step, but it saves space in propagation as not all seeds germinate. Patti’s nifty tip on checking the germination rate is to wrap 5 to 10 seeds in a wet paper towel, and in 24 hours, viable seeds will start to open and show green. To think in just one day, you can have a tiny green fix!

Learn more about Little Big Farm here Thank you, Patti!

Garden dilemmas? (and now on your favorite Podcast App.)

You’ll enjoy a column titled We’re All Just Seeds

The Old Farmer’s Almanac has a nifty Frost Date Calculator where you can search frost dates for your area. 

column updated 1/12/21


Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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