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Seed Starting 101: Biggest Mistakes & Secret Tips

Posted by Devan Muir on

One of the most common problems many gardeners face is starting their own plants from seeds. Some of us feel overwhelmed and just don’t know where to start. Some of us have tried and failed and don’t know what we did wrong, and some of us just want to step up our seed starting skills to get better, faster, and more consistent results. There are TONS of reasons to start your plants from seeds, and we’ll go over those in another post...but in this post, we’ll be giving you the tools and technology to be a successful seed starter time and time again. So stay tuned for our TOP SECRET seed starting tips!

Biggest Seed Starting Mistakes

Okay, so a lot of us have tried to start our own seeds and have failed but we didn’t know why. You know, we picked up one of those spiffy jiffy peat pellet kits from home depot and a small fortune worth of seeds and started planting, only to have only a few seeds pop up, and then die. If that’s been your experience you’re not alone! It happens ALL THE TIME! In order to understand how to be successful, we first have to identify potential problems so we can fix them.

Here are the most common mistakes people make when starting seeds.

  • Mistake # 1: Bad growing medium
    • Poor drainage = too wet, too cold, seeds drown
      • Those Jiffy Peat Pellets? They have terrible drainage, which leads to colder rootzone temps, waterlogging and seed rotting. Soil from outside? Usually it has really poor drainage, and can harbor diseases, pests, and chunky material that can prevent your seeds from reaching the surface. Can you use them? Yes, but you’ll need to make sure all the other elements in the process are correct. You want a medium that has a proper air/water ratio, and that retains moisture, but doesn’t get water logged.
  • Mistake # 2: No heat
    • No heat = rotted seeds, slow germination
      • We see this time and time again. The proper time to start seeds is in LATE winter or early Spring. This gives them enough time to get established so they are ready to plant when outside temperatures warm up. The problem is that outside, and usually INSIDE temperatures during this time of year are cold! Not good for seed starting. Seeds need warmth to germinate properly. A cold granite countertop, or a shelf in a basement or garage is likely going to be too cold and your seeds will struggle without supplemental heat.
  • Mistake # 3: Overwatering = Rotted seeds, dampening off, pathogens
      • Overwatering is all too common, especially with new gardeners. We get it, you want to baby those seedlings and make sure they get plenty of water. But drowning your seedlings roots is a real problem, especially when you use a poor growing medium! Over-watering can lead to root suffocation, colder root zone temperatures, and seed rotting.
  • Mistake # 4: Too little light
      • If you do some googling or poke around in garden forums, you’ll hear some great advice, like ‘You can just put your seedling starts in a sunny window’ NOPE! Once your seeds pop up, they need BRIGHT light. Unless you have DIRECT sun for the majority of the day...a bright window will not be enough to develop healthy strong seedlings. Instead, you’ll get seedlings that have to stretch too far towards the sun and get thin and leggy. This exposes their tender stems, which are vulnerable to breakage, pests and disease.

>>Are there any problems you’ve experienced that you think we missed? Let us know in the comments below!

How to start seeds successfully

Okay, now that we know what the problems are...let’s fix them! Before we get into the tools we use, we KNOW there are lots of fantastic and cheap DIY ways to start seeds, and we are not saying our way is the BEST way, or that you have to go out and buy a bunch of products. We just want to share with you the CONCEPTS for success, what works for us, and share some products we use to get incredible results. We’ve put links to all the products we use in the description below in case you want to check them out, but most importantly we want you to understand the what your seedlings need - so you can get creative and develop a process that works for you

Alright...let's get into our ULTIMATE SEED STARTING SECRETS!

  • 4 Key elements of Seed Starting Success
    • TIP#1 Growing medium
      • A good growing medium for seed starting is going to have the following key components:
        • Light and airy with small particle size.
          • Stuff like compost usually has big chunks of stuff like bark and wood chips in it, and it makes it harder for seedlings to push their way to the surface. Great base mediums are Coco Coir (our favorite) and fine Peat Moss.
        • Water holding capabilities
        • Good drainage.
          • Coco coir is an ideal medium to use as it holds plenty of moisture, but doesn’t compact the way other grow mediums do. Adding perlite can boost the drainage, and oxygen holding ability as well.
        • Enough nutrition to kickstart and sustain growth.
          • Things like Beneficial Microbes, Worm Castings, Trace Minerals, Humic Acid - these will all super charge your seedlings after they develop their first true set of leaves

  • >> If you want to see our recipe click here: Seed Starting Recipe.

  • TIP#2 Warmth
  • Seeds need warmth to germinate. Check out this chart!

  • Seed Starting Germination Temperature Chart

    Most seeds germinate best at temperatures ABOVE 80 degrees. Is your countertop or house warmer than 80 degrees in late winter/early spring? If not, you’ll benefit tremendously by using a heat mat. Heat mats provide gentle bottom heat to warm your seed trays about 10-20 degrees above the ambient room temperature. If you want precise control over the temperature of your soil, we highly recommend investing in a Heat Mat Themostat Controller with a remote probe. Check this OUT!

    Heat mat thermostats have a remote probe that is inserted into your growing medium (right where your little babies are growing!) This probe reads the temperatures from your soil, and adjusts the heat of the mat to meet the exact temperature you set!

      • TIP#3 Proper Moisture/humidity:
        • Seeds need moisture to germinate, but they also need to breathe :) If you’re not already using a tray with a dome - do it. It will make a HUGE difference in your success, and if you follow this next trick, you won’t even have to THINK about over or under watering your seedlings.
          • TRICK: Most seedling mixes are actually dry and HYDROPHOBIC - which means that they will actually repel water! The best way to prepare your growing medium is to PREMOISTEN your mix with warm water. Put it in a container and let is soak for a bit. Once it’s soaked good, get a handful and SQUEEZE out the water before putting it into your trays or pots. Plant your seeds, cover the tray with the dome, and then DON’T TOUCH IT! Don’t water it, Don’t open it to peak….just walk away! The dome will trap all the humidity and moisture inside, and you will not have to water again until AFTER your seeds pop!
      • TIP#4 Let the be light! (Choir Singing - image of sunbeams)
        • Bright Light prevents leggyness and stretching and gives your seedlings an excellent strong start. We already discussed how light from a window is typically NOT enough for strong seedlings. It’s time for you to invest in a grow light. Seedlings are not very particular and don’t need fancy expensive lights...but they DO NEED light, and BRIGHT light. We like to use LED grow lights because they don’t put off very much heat, and put out a TON of light. which creates really healthy, strong and compact seedlings. If you’re on a limited budget, just use what you have available. Just make sure it’s close enough so your seedlings don’t need to stretch, and far enough to where you won’t light anything on fire :) The goal is to give those seedlings as much light as possible without overheating them :)

    There is a TON more to cover on what to do AFTER your seeds start, and we’ll address that in a future post so make sure you check back and follow us on instagram @powergrowsystem and YouTube.com/powergrowsystems...But for now, hopefully we’ve given you some tips to help you be more confident in your seed starting skills. If you follow the tips in this post, we guarantee that it will take your seed starting game to the next level and you’ll experience more consistent and better results.

    >>Do you have any seed starting tips you use? If so let us know in the comments below!





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