How to grow from seed: Part 2
It’s time to talk about seedlings. The Soil Association’s head of horticulture Ben Raskin’s follow-up workshop on care of new plants was very informative, as he explained what needs to be done once seeds have germinated. I felt rather guilty when I thought about my ‘mystery beans’ from the seed swap as I’d neglected them for a few days at this crucial stage and they didn’t get enough sun (see point 7), but hopefully you can learn from my mistake. As someone mentioned at the workshop, if something does go wrong you can always re-sow! In extreme cases there’s always next year… but for now, look after your seedlings carefully and they’ll reward you by growing up big and strong.
Here are eight tips to make sure your seedlings get from pot to garden happy and healthy:
1) Make sure everything is ready – the pot or ground is prepared, and the seedlings have been watered so they’re not too dry. Plants don’t like to have their roots exposed for too long, so the quicker the transfer, the happier your seedlings will be.
2) Gently does it! The key to handing tiny plants is to be very careful with them. Ease them out of their pots or modules by loosening the soil with a pencil or twig, hold them by the leaf rather than the stem, and try not to break too many roots.
3) When you have your seedling separated, make a hole in the soil that’s big enough to accommodate the root system. Ease it in and push the earth back around the roots, pressing it down lightly once it’s all in place to make sure there’s good contact between roots and soil.
4) Check that the stalk is supported and the plant is standing up well. If the seedlings are particularly floppy, you may need to plant them slightly deeper so that they don’t fall over.
5) Give them a good soak. This will help the roots to spread out and become established in their new environment, as well as providing them with the water they need to continue growing. Keep a close eye on the moisture level as they settle in to make sure they don’t get too dry.
6) Protect them from the wind. Seedlings are susceptible to wind damage as they may have softer stems and more delicate leaves. Giving them shelter in the early days is important to make sure they grow strong.
7) Make sure they get plenty of light. All plants need some sunshine to enable them to photosynthesise, although the amount varies. A windowsill, porch or greenhouse is ideal for young plants - if they’re kept too dark, they will grow lanky, pale and floppy. If you’re planting out into the ground, light shouldn’t be a problem but consider shading and exposure when deciding where to place your seedlings.
8) Harden off delicate varieties. Putting new shoots outside in a sunny spot during the day and bringing them in overnight for the first week will ‘harden off’ the seedlings and make them more vigorous and better able to cope with living outdoors when the time comes.
Jess Gotham began volunteering with the Soil Association in March. Before that, she worked on sustainable housing with Transition Homes Totnes, and spent time WWOOFing.