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Once your seedlings are started, it doesn’t mean challenges are over. How do you care for seedlings?

Well, sometimes, getting the seedlings from your growing setup and into the ground can be the most difficult part of all. Here are things to consider while your seedlings mature, so you aren’t caught unaware of what could happen.

Tracking Seedlings

It’s amazing how easy it is to lose track of what plants you planted where, and when you planted them! Develop a tracking system.  Many people place plant markers in each pot or row of a tray of seedlings.

 

Some gardeners use a chart on graph paper, marking by rows or squares of what’s been planted. (A standard starter tray has 72 cells, but you don’t have to plant a single type of plant in each tray.)  You can also use a spreadsheet. If you have planted more than one tray of plants, label them with a marker and duct tape.   This is the system we use for tracking, since we have so many trays and it takes much longer to place markers than to just write it down.

Whatever tracking system you use, it’s better to over-annotate than under-annotate. Consider including planting and re-planting dates in your notes too, so you have everything you need for reference later. Also, note if a plant (e.g., broccoli) can be planted earlier.

Managing Growth

Seedlings require adjustments and management as they grow. If your plants become too high, you may need to pinch back taller plants or adjust the height of your lighting units to prevent them from touching the plants. Keep repotting as needed, preferably as soon as possible. This allows room for roots to grow naturally. Many plants benefit from deep planting, because it allows additional roots to develop from the main stem.

Photo Credit: missellyrh on Flickr 

Dealing with Pests, Problems, & Deficiences

Occasionally, young plants may exhibit signs of weakness and/or illness. One of the most destructive problems is called “damping off”, a fungal infection that infects the stem, restricting the flow of nutrients. The thinning of the stalk at the base becomes evident, and the plants fall over and eventually die. Thankfully, there are several things you can do to prevent this problem. 

– Start with sterile soil, free of fungus that can infect the plants.

– Make sure you don’t overwater seedlings or allow their “feet” to soak in excess water.

– Apply a thin solution of hydrogen peroxide or chamomile tea and sprinkle cinnamon on the soil.

– In addition, adding a fan may help prevent damping off, and it will also stiffen plants. 

Finally, watch for signs of nutritional deficiencies. If a plant starts yellowing, it needs more nitrogen. Phosphorous, as another example, is important for root growth. If your plant just doesn’t look good, research what nutritional deficiencies cause those symptoms, then supplement accordingly with a quality organic fertilizer.

Hardening Plants

Before you can plant seedlings outside, you must “harden” them. Hardening means helping plants become accustomed to outdoor weather, including temperature and wind changes. Start the hardening process by putting a fan on your plants when they’re still indoors, since wind can over-stress plants that aren’t used to moving air. (Adding a fan early on in the process will also help encourage plant growth in general.) 

Once the weather has warmed up, start hardening plants by putting them in a location that is sheltered from the wind and direct midday sun. Increase their sun exposure gradually, and decrease their night protection gradually.  You can use a cold frame similar to this one used for cold-weather crops, and can also use a cold frame or similar cover that keeps the heat in to keep the seedlings warm at night – just make sure you ventilate it during the day so the seedlings don’t get overheated from a closed greenhouse effect.

 

How to Care for Seedlings – Conclusion

There you have it! You’ve planted your first seeds, and now that you know how to care for seedlings, you can start putting them in your garden where they’ll produce delicious produce for you this year!