You are here: Home Newsreleases 2011 Start Thinking About Planting Seeds for Your Garden
Document Actions

Start Thinking About Planting Seeds for Your Garden

Some vegetables and flowers should be planted as early as 10 weeks in advance of permanent placing in a garden.

This recent warm snap we’ve had lets us know that spring isn’t too far away. Seed catalogs also are out, which gives the avid gardener an itch this time of year.

“Many gardeners like to get a head start by planting their own seedlings indoors,” says Sheldon Gerhardt, North Dakota State University Extension Service agent in Logan County. “It sounds like a simple task, but it takes more effort than one thinks. Just ask anyone who has tried to do so or has worked in a greenhouse.”

Lighting is probably the most common problem gardeners face when starting seeds. Without adequate light, seedlings will end up leggy, pale and weak. Natural light is great, but seedlings should have up to 16 hours of light a day, so supplemental light usually is necessary.

Combining warm-white and cool-white fluorescent bulbs creates a good spectrum of light. Having the light fixture on chains also is beneficial because the light should be very close to the seedlings (no more than an inch away). If the seedlings are grown in a windowsill, try to avoid drafty areas. Seedlings grow well in air temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees.

Soil is another important factor that may be overlooked.

“You should be able to find a high-quality planting mix locally or make your own from a mixture of equal amounts of potting soil, milled sphagnum moss and perlite,” Gerhardt says. “Don’t use plain garden soil. It can get rock hard after a few waterings and carry insect and disease problems. The damping-off fungus is a common problem that causes young plants to suddenly keel over at the soil line and die. Using sterile soil, avoiding overwatering and having adequate ventilation can help avoid this problem.”

Fertilization is not necessary for seeds because they carry their own food and have enough food energy to germinate on their own. On the other hand, young seedlings will need a weak fertilizer to grow successfully. As the seedlings get bigger and have several sets of true leaves, the dose can be increased to full strength, but follow the directions on the label.

Seeds need to be kept constantly moist to germinate. The consistency of a just wrung-out sponge is a good standard to use. Once the seedlings are up, begin watering them slightly less often. When they are at least a few inches tall, it is OK to let the top 1/2 inch or so of soil have a chance to dry out between waterings. Check the soil with your finger on a daily basis. Too much moisture can cause root rot and damping-off problems.

“Thinning is a critically important step,” Gerhardt says. “It usually is hard for first-time gardeners to discard seedlings that were carefully nurtured, but it is a necessary step. Overcrowded seedlings always develop into inferior plants. Their roots become intertwined, crowded, weaker, more disease prone, leggy and chlorotic. Thinning should begin as soon as the seedlings have their first set of true leaves. A small scissors should be used for thinning. Yanking them out disturbs the roots and soil of the remaining plants.”

Tender seedlings grown indoors under constant conditions need to be acclimated gradually to the harsher outdoor environment so they can withstand the exposure to direct sun, wind and changing temperatures. This process is called hardening off. When the weather is warm and settled both day and night, set seedling containers outdoors in a lightly shaded, sheltered spot. Gradually increase the time the plants spend outdoors until the seedlings spend a half day outside and then increase the time to a full 24 hours.

Next is the transition into sunlight. Begin with just a few hours of full sun. Gradually increase the time in the sun to a half day and then several full days in the sun before transplanting the seedlings to a permanent spot in the garden.

Some vegetables and flowers should be planted as early as 10 weeks in advance of permanent placing in a garden.

“As an example, the average last frost date in Logan County falls around May 21,” Gerhardt says. “This would require a March 12 seeding date. Relax, though, because most plant seeding dates range from two to eight weeks in advance.”

An NDSU publication, “How to Succeed at Seed Starting (H-1139),” is available at

NDSU Agriculture Communication - Feb. 18, 2011

Source:Sheldon Gerhardt, (701) 754-2504,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
Spotlight on Economics: Spotlight on Economics: COVID-19 Brings Renewed Debate About Legislating Externalities  (2020-06-03)  COVID-19 has us reconsidering personal liberties on many fronts.  FULL STORY
Prairie Fare: Prairie Fare: Try These 7 Questions About Sun Safety  (2020-06-04)  Using a hat and sunscreen are a couple of ways to help prevent damage to our skin and, potentially, skin cancer.  FULL STORY
Dakota Gardener: Dakota Gardener: Phenology – It’s All About Timing  (2020-06-02)  The NDSU Extension forester discusses the timing of trees’ bud break in the spring.  FULL STORY
Use of Releases
The news media and others may use these news releases in their entirety. If the articles are edited, the sources and NDSU must be given credit.

Powered by Plone, the Open Source Content Management System