Gardening While Isolated: Starting Your Garden from Seeds

Series continues with educational video about starting seeds and growing transplants

April 23, 2020, 10:22 am | Kathleen Delate, Chris Currey

Correction: Use this link for the Starting Your Garden from Seeds video: (Corrected 4-27-2020)

AMES, Iowa – Starting seeds and growing transplants can be one of the most rewarding experiences, even if you only have space for a few containers of vegetables for your patio garden.

In Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s new video, “Starting Your Garden from Seeds”, viewers will learn from Chris Currey, associate professor of horticulture at Iowa State University, as he demonstrates the best methods to start seeds for your garden, as part of the “Gardening While Isolated” series.

Environmental considerations

It is important to have the proper environmental conditions for growing transplants. Your house or greenhouse should be at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit for the best germinating conditions. If you are growing in the basement, some type of supplemental lighting will be needed, such as the example shown in this resource from Early May online.

tomato transplants ready for the field.Choose sterile potting mix, which will contain a mixture of peat moss, perlite and possibly vermiculite, from your farm and garden store, to avoid any potential insect pests or diseases that could be present in soils from your backyard. Some potting mixes may contain fertilizers, so choose only the fertilizer-free brands to avoid any issues with over-fertilization.

Select seeds with pest resistance

When you decide which vegetables, herbs or flowers you want to grow outdoors, you should select seeds from cultivars that are resistant or tolerant of insect pests and diseases, so you will have limited problems once you transplant into your garden. An example of a disease-tolerant tomato cultivar that has proven to be very adapted to Iowa’s conditions is the ‘Defiant’ tomato, which shows resistance to the tomato blight diseases.

Planting a mixture of flowers, herbs and vegetables in the garden can help with pest management, as insect pests have a harder time locating their vegetable hosts when they are not mono-cropped. Planting a border of native plants, like Echinacea or purple coneflower, which rarely have pest problems, will also help attract pollinators to aid in pollination of certain vegetable crops, like squash.

You can start your seeds at any time, and step up transplants from trays into plastic or clay pots as they grow beyond six inches tall, or you can time your seeding to match the typical days-to-transplanting schedule. As an example, pepper seeds are slow growing, and can take up to eight weeks before they reach a suitable size for transplanting.

Sowing in trays

Purchasing plastic trays with individual cells for transplants is recommended. These come with drainage holes, so if you choose to make your own (such as the egg cartons in the video), make sure there is adequate drainage when you water. Peat pots can also be used, as they can be planted directly in the garden, but certain plants have difficulty pushing their roots through the pots, so it’s best to try these on a trial basis to see if they work for you.

Sow the seeds as one seed per cell for the best results. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of potting mix, within one-quarter inch of the top of the cell, and gently water, to keep seeds moist.

Check the media in the cells every day to make sure it does not dry out. Plastic domes can be purchased and put over trays to retain moisture if desired:

Transplanting your seedlings

Once outdoor conditions are right, and night temperatures remain above 65˚F, transplants can be moved outside. Oftentimes, gardeners gradually move them into full sun to acclimate transplants to outdoor light and wind conditions that may injure tender seedlings. Covering your new transplants with spun row covers can also protect them on cold nights. The safest method for ensuring rapid growth of tropical plants, such as tomatoes and peppers, is to wait until full summer conditions are here.


Seed and garden suppliers:

The products and suppliers mentioned in this release are for example only. No endorsement of these products or suppliers is intended.


Original photo: Tomato transplants ready for the field.

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