Lettuce starts grow under lights powered by the new solar panels. (Contributed photo)

Lettuce starts grow under lights powered by the new solar panels. (Contributed photo)

Bedding plants: Starting the right way

Everyone can start bedding out plants. How healthy the plants are is dependent on their growing conditions. Weak bedding-out-plants, given time, can recover but the season is short.

The growing medium is important. Use a fine, sterilized starter potting mix that allows seeds to sprout and root with very little effort. Sterilization will eliminate most of the funguses and bacteria that can kill seedlings. The most common problem is, damping off, where the stem rots at the soil level. If not stopped it can quickly spread between plants and pots. This disease is prevalent when soil is wet for too long.

Seeds can be started in any sterilized container as long as it has good drainage. To sterilize a used container, wash to clean and rinse in a weak bleach solution. Holes are a must as they allow excess water to drain. Empty the trays within 10 minutes of watering.

A strong bright light is a must when growing bedding out plants. Poor light will cause the plant to grow tall and spindly. South or west windows are better than other windows but best results are had with the addition of grow lights. The cost of grow lights has decreased while the availability and types available have increased. They are available and stand alone, held by clamps or traditional light bars. It can be as simple as putting an LED growlight in an existing lamp. The cost of operating a LED light is much less than the old fluorescent or incandescent lights.

Unless the potting soil specifies it contains fertilizer with a three number ratio (1-1-1), assume that there are few if any nutrients in the soil. Using a fertilizer that contains a balanced amount of nitrogen, potassium and potash such as 20-20-20, 10-10-10 or 1-1-1 ensures all nutrients are available present for the plants use.

Fertilizers are available in liquid or powder form. Both organic and chemical fertilizers work well if the instructions on the package are followed.

Water with warm water or room temperature water as cold water will cool down the soil problems with fungi and bacteria more likely.

Starting the seeds in a cooler room discourages fast spindly growth as it slows down plant growth. Greenhouses open vents when the air temperature reaches a certain temperature.

Warming pads made specifically for starting seeds speed up germination. The sealed pads contain heating coils sandwiched between a few layers of plastic so water does not seep into the unit. The pads have a pre-set thermostat but many brands can be overridden by the addition of a manual thermostat. The manual thermostat allows for more exact heating.

Large heating pads are only needed if huge amounts of seed are being started at one time. One tray can be used to seed numerous types of plants. Seeds can be planted in rows and transplanted into individual pots once they develop two true leaves. Seeds require different amounts of time to germinate and grow meaning that they should be sown at different times making a small pad practical.

For best results, take time to set up a germination and growing area before seeding.

Linda Tomlinson has gardened in Central Alberta for over 30 years. She can be reached at your_garden@hotmail.com.