My Seeds Are Sprouting – What Do I Do Now??????

I hope you have had some success in getting your seeds to sprout!
Once the seeds have sprouted, remove the cover. When the seedlings are young, you may want to re-cover them for a few hours a day to keep them from drying out.
Over many years of growing my own plants, one thing that really helped me out was using a turkey baster to water the young seedlings. I found I had better control over the amount of water I gave them, as opposed to using a watering can. I often would use a spray bottle filled with water, however, in many instances, the young seedlings would be bowled over with the spray. Always use warm water, NOT cool.
This is also the time to start fertilizing. Use a water soluble fertilizer such as a 10-52-10. Add fertilizer to tepid water, as directed, and fertilize about every third watering. A high middle number (phosphorous) will encourage a good root system; a high first number (nitrogen) will encourage too much leaf growth and the third number (potassium) will allow for better uptake of food and water from the soil and is good for the over-all health of the plant. At this point, don’t over-fertilize and don’t over-water.
Put the seedlings as close to your light source as possible to prevent the seedlings from “stretching”. If you are using Fluorescent lights, keep your lights on for about 15 – 16 hours a day. If you have them in a sunny spot in the house, make sure they don’t dry out from the heat of the sun. You will also have to turn them every few days to encourage the stems to grow straight and prevent stretching.
Once the seedlings appear to be over-crowded, or have developed their second set of leaves, it is time to separate them and transplant them into little containers of their own, (about 1 ½” – 2”) large. Pick the plants up by the leaves, not the stem or roots when you are transplanting. Make sure the containers you are using have holes for good drainage. Peat pots are excellent ones to use as they allow the water to pass through and you won’t have to remove your plant when planting out into the soil as the peat pot will break down in the moist soil. If you transplant seedlings into a container that is too large, you won’t see much new top-growth, however, the plant will be busy growing roots to fill the container. At this point, you may want to switch to an all-purpose fertilizer (20-20-20). I like using a very weak strength of fertilizer with every watering.
Almost all seedlings will grow into better, bushier plants if you pinch off their top growth after they’ve grown their second or third set of leaves. Never pinch tuberous begonia or celosia. As the seedlings grow, you may want to transplant them again into a container that is a little larger. You may also want to add some soil to your soil-less mix to train the roots to work their way through soil. They will have a better time once they are finally planted into the garden. You will then have some healthy, large plants to transplant outside once the weather warms (usually around May 24th).
As your seedlings grow, use a fan on them for a few hours a day to stress them a little. Also, allow them to dry out a bit by missing a watering and a fertilizing once a week and put them in a cool spot at night. Your plants will be a lot stronger and more able to survive better on their own outside.
Always harden off your plants before planting them outside by gradually getting them used to the conditions in which they are going to grow. A plant that has been pampered with a lot of water, fertilizer heat and humidity will grow lush, green, tender foliage but will be the first to go into shock and keel over in our Manitoba sun and wind. Always put your tender plants into a shady, sheltered spot for the first couple of days and then gradually introduce them out into the wind and sun. If your plants become withered or start showing signs of too much sun (white leaves), give them a good watering and put them back into the sheltered shade. Your plants will soon become used to the conditions and be less likely to succumb to the harsh conditions of the outside. A good rule to follow when planting is to plant your sun plants out first and then your shade plants. Usually the shade plants are more tender and planting out too early (impatiens or begonia) will set them back or you may lose them if the nights dip down to below 10 degrees.
Many plants such as petunias, verbena, alyssum, dianthus, foxglove (foxy), snapdragons, gazanias, centaurea (batchelor button), rudbeckia (gloriosa daisy), sweet peas, chrysanthemum, cosmos and pansies can take a little cold and frost, but, be prepared to cover them if the risk of frost occurs soon after planting out. Use newspaper, cardboard or sheets to cover. Never use plastic as this draws the cold.
About a week after your plants have been planted outside, give them a good fertilizing (like a Miracle Gro 15-30-15 for all your blooming plants and an all-purpost 20-20-20) for all your leafy plants. Continue to do so, according to directions, throughout the summer and you will have strong, healthy plants right through the season.
Stay tuned for some more planting tips and tricks!