Starting seeds indoors can be fun and quite rewarding. Planting seeds and watching the seedlings grow seems to help move us toward the warmth of spring.

Before taking the plunge and lining every window with seed trays, give some thought to the pros and cons of growing seedling plants.

Starting your own seeds has a number of advantages. It can be an enjoyable activity for those long winter nights. Creating a "mini" garden under lights in the basement can help combat couch potato tendencies at this time of year.

It opens a whole array of new and unusual plant varieties not commonly offered by local sources. Catalogs are filled with recent introductions and improved varieties of flowers and vegetables.

Grown properly, your own seedlings may be ready to flower or produce a crop earlier than those planted directly in the garden. The key is to prevent them from becoming overgrown while waiting to be transplanted outdoors. Some plants will never recover from poor treatment during the seedling stage.

Unfortunately, there are also some major negatives.

To avoid producing tall, spindly, weak plants, supplemental light is a must. Usually, 14 to 16 hours of fluorescent lighting placed near (3-5 inches) the plants is required. The light stand must allow the lamp fixture to be raised and lowered easily. This can be tricky.

Sterile media must be used to prevent the fungal disease called "damping off" which kills seedlings a few days after emergence. Perlite or vermiculite work well for germinating the seeds. Seedlings should also be transplanted into sterile potting soil for best results.

Certain seeds require bottom heating for proper germination. Special cables and mats are available but may be costly. Relying on general room heating may result in slower germination or lower percentage of germination.

When gardeners get itchy and start seeds too early, they may run out of space for holding the seedlings indoors. Vegetable seedlings held too long may not produce well.

Keep these factors in mind before deciding to start seeds at home. If you just want to grow a few annuals and tomato seedlings, it may be simpler (and cheaper) to buy bedding plants at the store.

Note: We have provided some general information and observations on this topic aimed at the home gardener. Before you take any serious action in your landscape, check with your state's land grant university's Cooperative Extension Service for the most current, appropriate, localized recommendations.


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