Seedlings save you time and effort by allowing you to skip over the delicate seed phase of a plant's life. However, seedlings are still in a fragile stage of development, and a novice gardener will need to prepare adequately in order to prove his green thumb.
Here are the steps to start seedlings for your garden.
- Prepare four-inch pots for seedlings. Fill the pots just below the rim with potting mix. You can buy the mix in a gardening store or make them yourself with a blend of peat moss.
- Transfer the seedlings from their old pots to their new ones. Lift the old pots, turn them upside down then press on all the sides. The potting mix should then be loosened enough to be released; you can also slit the sides of the old pot to allow for additional pressure. Carefully remove the soil ball from the fragile root system.
- Create a hole in the potting mix to fit in the roots of the seedling. Cup the soil ball with your hand to support it during transfer. Gently insert the seedling into the pot, fill in the roots with the surrounding mix then water the seedling. Set the pot under a bright light, but avoid direct sunlight for now. Add liquid fertilizer on a regular basis to provide adequate nutrients to them.
- Prevent fungal infestation. If your seedlings suddenly wither and die, there’s a good chance a fungal growth has gotten to it at the roots. Use pasteurized potting mix and clean and bleach the pots thoroughly before use. You can also space the seedlings so that the fungus won't transfer through all of them. Thinning them out is also required once they develop their second set of true leaves. You may either transfer excess seedlings to another yard or dispose of them.
- Learn about your seedlings' specific needs. Many edible plants need plenty of light in order to grow. If natural light is unavailable, you will need to install florescent lighting for the seedlings. Other summer-attuned seedlings need a warm bed of soil to continue its development. You will then need a heating mat to warm the potting mix for the next couple of weeks. Both florescent lighting and heating mat can be purchased in gardening stores.
- Harden your seedlings before transferring them to open ground. Pot-grown seedlings that are grown using controlled conditions may lack the toughness it needs to deal with the elements. You will need to gradually expose the seedlings to outdoor conditions. Lay them outside in direct sunlight for a few hours then lengthen the time they are outdoors during the succeeding days. You can also use this technique for cold weather. Avoid over-hardening your seedlings, however, as some plants can bolt (flower prematurely) when exposed again and again to cold weather.
Seedling care is among the more advanced gardening skills, and requires a balance of nurturing, monitoring and protection in order to succeed. Once you go past the seedling phase, taking care of the plants will be less of a hassle as they will develop hardier systems to resist adverse conditions.