Common Seed Starting Mistakes

It’s that time of year to get seeds started in anticipation for the spring growing season. I am even more excited this year than past years now that I am a certified Gardenary Garden Consultant and received further training in how to share my knowledge with you. I have for the longest time wanted to share about growing food, but wasn’t sure how, through my training I am now very confident with my ability to teach you how to be a successful kitchen gardener. Seed starting can seem difficult to do, scary or misunderstood, it doesn’t have to be. By avoiding some of these common mistakes you will be more successful with your seed starting. This is not an exhaustive list, but some of the most common mistakes I am seeing being made. If you are new to gardening or to starting seeds I want you to be successful and optimistic about the possibilities within your kitchen garden, I don’t want to see you make any of these mistakes.  I am rooting for you and your success and growth, you can do it!

These are some of the common mistakes I see happening a lot:

  1. Using regular garden soil. You want your seed starting mix to be light and fluffy, free of any larger pieces of soil or other organic matter. This gives your seed an easier time coming up to look for the light after germination. You can use a commercially made seed starting mix or something you have made yourself, just make sure it is light and fluffy. You don’t want your seedlings to have to work super hard to come up or be stressed that they will become leggy and not very strong.
  2. Failing to pre-moisten the growing medium. This makes it much easier to plant your seeds and helps ensure they will have enough moisture to germinate. It also makes it less likely that your seeds will float up or around when watering them in. (Keep this in mind when direct sowing too.)
  3. Failing to lightly pack in your seed starting mix. You want to gently fill your seed trays with enough soil that the seedling will have enough of everything it needs to grow until it’s time to transplant it. If you don’t pack it in you can have lots of air holes and not enough mix, but don’t over pack it to the point where it is too condensed.
  4. Planting seeds at the wrong depth or the wrong time. This is kind of like number one listed above, you don’t want your seedlings to be stressed and have to work extra hard to come up for light. Planting too deep can also make your seedlings leggy. A good way to ensure proper depth is to plant them about twice the width of the seed. Gently cover with your growing medium. Planting seeds for the wrong season will make your seedlings stressed and may no grow very well. A good rule here is to learn each plant family and when they prefer to grow. There are always exceptions to every rule, but knowing the basics will help you tremendously. 
  5. Using too strong of a flow to water your seedlings if not using the bottom watering method. Watering from below is best practice if you ask me. When you water from above you only need a gentle mist to moisten the soil. Bottom watering helps prevent things like damping off or mold and mildew, which can spread rapidly through your trays. 
  6. Using a heat mat when one isn’t needed or for too long of a time. Seeds will germinate at different temperatures. Think about nature here, plants in the Brassicaceae family like cool temperatures to thrive while things like peppers and tomatoes like a little warmth. Something else I see is using the heat mat for much longer than needed. If using a heat mat, you only need it until you see green little seedlings popping through. You do not want to stress your seedlings by leaving them not he heat mat longer than needed.
  7. Using a humidity dome longer than needed. This sort of ties in hit the heat mats. You only need the humidity dome, if you choose to use one, until you see the green little sprouts popping up. Leaving it on too long can result in damping off, mold and mildew and sad seedlings. Watering from the bottom will help, but only so much if the dome is left on too long. Think about what seeds you are planting and their days to germination so you can plant seeds with days that are close so you won’t want to keep the dome on longer than necessary. You don’t really need to use a dome if you are vigilant and make sure you seeds have enough moisture.
  8. Lighting issues. Either not having enough light or the lights being too far away from the seedlings will cause you to have leggy sad seedlings. I see this more often than not. You want your lights about 6 inches above of your seedlings, some even say close enough that you can just run your hand between them. This really depends on the amount of heat coming from your lights. I have seen people burn their seedlings because the lights were too hot, so also take that into consideration. Each person uses different lights and wattages, so read up about your specific kind to see the right placement for you.

Seed starting doesn’t have to be complicated once you make sure your system is organized and you avoid making any of these mistakes. The good thing is once you learn your method you can repeat it season after season, tweaking where necessary. Have you made any of these common mistakes? I know I have, but that is one of the best ways to learn, though I am happy to share these so you don’t have to learn the hard way. Let me know in the comments which ones you have made and what happened to your seedlings. If you think there is another common mistake that I didn’t list please comment with that as well! I know I didn’t cover every single mistake, just some of the most common ones I have seen.

As always, if you are needing more help, book a consult or coaching session. I would love to help you grow your best garden yet! Book here

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