Gardener Susan Sides shares how to nurture spring seedlings and build their viability prior to planting them out in your spring garden.
Most important, consider the needs of the plants you're starting. Change places with them on the windowsill for a moment, and make sure to properly use whatever system you choose.
PHOTO: JEFF MERMELSTEIN
There are lots of ways to nurture those tender spring seedlings before the join your spring garden.
My first seed-starting container was a cutoff milk carton I'd saved from the school cafeteria. It made a fine and frugal little plant nursery. Of course, milk cartons still work, but today's home gardener can also choose from a confusing array of commercial seed-starting systems. What about these setups—are they gimmicks or godsends? How much do they cost, how long do they last, and how well do they work? To find answers to these questions, I put eight different seed-starting setups through three trial plantings. To begin, I planted a selection of vegetables and flowers, including lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, celery, squash, marigolds, sweet Williams and zinnias. In later tests, I grew only kale from the same seed batch, so I could better compare seedling sizes.
All but one of the systems produced fine seedlings, but there were considerable differences in how each system worked and how easy it was to use. I comment on those differences and share my own personal preferences here. Still, different gardeners have different needs and opinions. Each of the eight seed-starting systems has supporters who prefer using it and who get good results.
So take my opinions with a grain of gardener's salt, and make your own choices. Most important, consider the needs of the plants you're starting. Change places with them on the windowsill for a moment, and make sure to properly use whatever system you choose:
Follow such steps and your seedlings won't end up longing for the great outdoors just so they can escape their seed starters.
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