Petting Your Seedlings

greenbeans in garden

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow”

~ Audrey Hepburn

It’s that time of year again, the time when we throw some seeds in dirt and watch miracles happen. Okay, so it’s a little more technical than that and not quite that simple. There are a couple things that will help increase your chances of raising healthy seedlings, including making sure that your pots and dirt are sterile to help reduce fungal and bacterial problems. A fairly straightforward way of handling this is to wash the pots well, spray them with a solution of bleach water and let them air dry. There’s a lot of debate on the issue of sterile soil. Some people prefer to purchase soil that is sterile, however most of these have been chemically treated to make them sterile. If you want to avoid chemicals you might want to sterilize your own soil. This includes heat treating the dirt in the oven to 200 degrees. I’ve heard of people who have done this in the microwave too. To be completely honest, I have some difficulty bringing myself to put dirt in my oven, so I never quite get the sterile environment for my seedlings. I admit it, I’m a bad seedling momma.

I do make up for their poor  environment with lots of love and affection. In other words I ‘pet’ my seedlings. Yup, you read that right. I pet my plants. The most common complaint I hear from people starting seeds is that the seedlings get leggy and often fall over. There can be several reasons including:

  • lighting: If the plants are reaching for the lights they can get leggy. Lights should really be 2-3 inches from the seedlings.
  • air circulation: unlike nature, most indoor set ups lack the wind mother nature provides. The wind, or circulation, is important  to avoid moisture problems and gives the plants some resistance to increase stem strength. This is where petting my plants comes into play. I keep an oscillating fan on seedlings to simulate wind and I also gently pet the tops of the seedlings. You could also try whispering sweet nothings to them. Hey, it couldn’t hurt!
  • damping off: this a term used for a variety of funguses that can infect your seedlings. To avoid damping off, start with sterile soil, thinly top your soil with sand, have good air circulation and don’t overwater. Even with these precautions you can still find yourself battling this problem.  You’ll know if you have it because the seedling will often have a pinched look near the dirt and fall over. If you don’t catch this soon it can quickly spread to your other starts. If you find damping off in your seedlings try treating with an antifungal, such as dusting the soil with cinnamon or charcoal, or watering with  a very diluted chamomile tea or adding a tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide to the water.

Remember , the best offense is a good defense, so create a clean, well ventilated nursery for your baby plants and  pet them often!