Even though I’ve been sowing seeds for a living, for dare I say . . . 30 years! I still get a real buzz of excitement from peaking in a propagator to seeing lots of little shoots breaking through the compost – it’s sooo satisfying. Now I did suggest in the last blog that germinating the seeds was the difficult part but in reality the next bit isn’t always a doddle either! Let the seedlings get large enough to handle which may take a week or two depending on the variety, during this time keep them somewhere that’s warm but not baking and with good light levels.
If the light is low the seedlings will become long, leggy and weak which can lead to them toppling over which doesn’t normally kill in itself but often leads to damping off (seedling rot) and once it’s started it’s difficult to stop. The other thing to watch is the watering, don’t let the seedlings dry out so much they wilt, being young and small makes them very delicate, 20mins wilted in full sunshine could totally frazzle them. When it comes to watering I’m a fan of standing the pot of seedlings in a shallow try of water when the compost changes colour take the pot out to drain. Doing it like that means the seedlings can’t get knocked over by heavy water droplets and there’s less humidity so less chance of damping off.
So how do you know the seedlings are big enough to handle…well we normally say that’s when they have their first set or second set of true leaves and that’s the time to prick them out, which basically means moving the seedlings on into pots or trays to give them more space to grow. When handling the seedlings hold them by a leaf rather than the stem, squash a leaf the seedling will recover, squash the stem you have a dead plantlet! I find that the seedlings come out of the compost more easily if they are on the drier side, and they can go into individual pots or spaced out in seed trays or I like the segmented-cell trays as there’s much less root disturbance when it comes to planting them out.
Once you’ve filled a tray, water well using a fine rose (gentle spray) and place them somewhere protected to establish. When you plant them out depends hugely on what you’ve grown and the weather conditions but they’ll all benefit from being “hardened off” which is a case of standing them out in the nicer weather and bringing them in at night or in bad weather.
One last thing I forgot to mention in my last blog is that if you’re sowing a mixed packet of seeds they will all come up at different times so don’t just prick out the first to come up as they are likely to be all the same! There might be more work in growing plants from seed BUT the plants work out better value, you get a much bigger choice AND the satisfaction of knowing that you grew that plant that’s in full flower/ fruit is fantastic!