Starting Seeds for Transplants

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We can now begin to think about starting seeds indoors for transplanting into our vegetable gardens when the weather warms up.  I know it is hard to imagine that we are that close to spring, but it will be here soon.  March is coming in like a lion so, hopefully it will go out like a lamb.

In March, we can start our transplants of many different types of vegetables for transplanting into our garden around Mother’s Day.  Count backward from Mother’s Day to determine when to start the plants indoors based on how long they need to grow prior to transplanting outdoors.  Below is a table showing germination ranges for common vegetable crops grown in Nebraska.

Based on Information from UNL Master Gardener Training Handbook
Based on Information from UNL Master Gardener Training Handbook

Good transplants begin with good care.  Start with good quality seed and a sterile soil or soil-less mixture.  You can start the seeds in the seed trays or other types of similar containers.  You can reuse pots or seed trays from previous years, just make sure all equipment has been cleaned thoroughly using a bleach mixture.  For growing media, you can use a potting soil, or a soil-less mixture that contains vermiculite, perlite, and/or peat moss.  Just make sure that the growing media is well-drained and has been moistened prior to planting into.

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Transplants need to be grown in favorable environmental conditions.  They need to be kept in temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.  Too cold or too warm and the seed may not germinate or the plants may grow leggy or improperly.  They need to have a light on the seeds and young plants for 12-16 hours a day.  This light should be kept only about 1 inch above the plants, as they grow, this light should be moved up with the seedlings.  This light source can be as simple and inexpensive as a utility light or shop light with one cool and one warm fluorescent bulb.  You can fertilize the seedlings weekly with a one-quarter strength, soluble fertilizer.  Do not fertilize the seedlings if they were allowed to dry out.  Replenish the moisture in the plants prior to applying fertilizer to avoid burning the seedlings.

Two weeks prior to planting outdoors in the garden, you will need to harden the plants.  This is the process of acclimatizing the plants to the outdoors prior to them being completely immersed in it.  Move the plants outdoors in the shade on non-windy days.  Start out by placing the plants in sun for only an hour or two, gradually increase the length of time they are in the sun and the intensity of that sun.  Be sure to still bring the plants indoors at night, especially if a frost is predicted.  Also, keep them out of direct wind until they have hardened off.

By the middle to the end of March, we can look to possibly start peas, potatoes and other cool season vegetables outside.  It is an old saying that you can plant peas and potatoes by St. Patrick’s Day, but that is only if the weather is favorable for that.  Check the weather outlook prior to planting these to ensure that it is going to be warm enough for these plants to not only germinate, but also stay alive.

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