Written by Randy Drinkard, Bartow County Extension Agent
Have you ever thought about growing your own tomato, pepper or other vegetable plants from seed? Well, if so, now is the perfect time to get started growing your transplants for setting out later this year in the garden.
Growing your own transplants can be rewarding, but a bit tricky, if you don’t have all the ingredients you need for success. Follow these easy suggestions to help make growing your garden transplants a successful and fun project!
Most vegetables and flowering annuals require at least four to eight weeks growing time before being ready to transplant into the garden. So, don’t start planting your seed too early. If you do plant too early, transplants often become stunted and root-bound in their containers.
A soil less mixture of a loose, well-drained growing media is a must. Seedlings can be killed by a common fungus disease called damping off. Using a growing mixture that drains well and is sterile can help in avoiding this problem. There are many good commercially prepared soilless mixes available for growing transplants. You can also make your own mixture from scratch. Mix equal parts by volume of sterile potting soil, perlite or vermiculite and dampened moistened sphagnum peat moss. Most commercial mixes have a wetting agent added that makes watering the media easier. Also, mixing in a few ounces of dolomitic agricultural limestone will buffer the pH of your growing mix.
To get the best results with the least amount of transplant shock to roots, plant seeds in individual containers such as cell packs, peat cups, jiffy peat pellets or foam cups. Make sure these containers are clean and free of disease pathogens and that they have holes to allow good drainage. Sowing rows in open flats requires a little bit more work.
Do not plant seeds deeper than the recommended depth. Smaller seeds may not even need to be covered. As a general rule, cover the seeds just enough so they are no longer visible. Some vegetable seed that have hard seed coats benefit from soaking overnight. Soaking softens hard seed coats and allows for better germination. Okra and squash are two examples.
Moisten the growing mix prior to seeding. Then gently water with a sprinkling can, taking care not to wash seeds, or batter young seedlings. Keep the media moist, but not soaking wet to avoid disease problems. Some companies sell a capillary mat with their transplant supplies that allows even moistening from the bottom.
Temperature is difficult to control when growing transplants in your home. Soil and air temperature should be kept between 70 to 75 F in the daytime and 60 to 65 F at night. Some seedling kits come with a clear plastic cover that helps keep emerging seedlings from drying out.
As for light and water, seedlings need full exposure to light after emerging. After the risk of frost, reduce watering just prior to transplanting in the garden and move the tender seedlings outside to a shady area to “harden off.” Use a water-soluble fertilizer prepared according to the label recommendations, when watering.
Remember that too much shade or cloudy weather, temperatures too warm, excessive watering and excessive fertilizing cause spindly or leggy transplants. Happy growing!