It is time to start seeds. There is often conflicting advice about starting seeds here in Tennessee, but generally speaking, you want to plan to plant your seedlings in the garden between the last week of April and the first week of May. My goal is always to plant the 1st of May, but I usually (okay, always) jump the gun and plant in April. Sometimes early April. We all know what happens then. The late freeze comes and kills the seedlings at the very worst, at best the freeze will only set the seedlings back a few weeks. But it is just too HARD to really wait, nonetheless, plan to plant your seedlings out the end of April (that is my story and I am sticking to it!)
Now that you know about when you can plant your seedlings out, you can back up the weeks it takes to grow a seedling and plan your seed plant date from that. I have grown seedlings for the past four years, this will be my fifth. I have had great success and some failures and will share with you hoping it may help you with your seedlings.
I read somewhere you do not need grow lights to successfully grow seedlings. But, you do need a light at least 4' long so the different color rays of the light can effectively provide your seedlings with what they need to grow-light (you provide the water). So, thrifty gardener that I am, I purchased a bunch of $10 shop lights, hung them from my ceilings all over the house, placed tables under them and set about planting. This method worked well for a few years but I got kind of tired of lights all over the house and having to waunder around to water and tend to the plants. So, two years ago I consolidated my seed growing efforts into one convenient location.
One of my dear friends (Delisa), whom I knew from the first Gulf War, was visiting me from Iowa. She saw I had plant lights spread about and insisted we go to Sam's Club so she could buy me a plant shelf. She knew exactly what would work and would not take a no. She insisted so off we went. The plant shelf she had in mind was a chrome shelf with adjustable shelves. It stands six feet tall, four feet wide, and about two feet deep. It is all chrome but has plastic shelf covers which help with situating the plants. I bet many of you have the exact same shelf in your homes or one like it, as they are very popular shelves. The picture is of my plant shelf nearly ready for seeds. Currently, I have wintered over coleus growing under the lights.
I attached two 48" lights to the middle three shelves with 'S' hooks. I can grow four seed starting trays per shelf. If I grew seeds in the 96 pack seed trays I could theoretically grow 1152 seedlings! I haven't of course, that is probably too much for even me. I generally grow about 200-400 seedlings per year. It all depends on what I have in mind and how much effort I want to put into growing the seedlings. Sometimes it is so much more cost effective simply buying transplants in a store and I have found convenience is something I value more and more as life goes on.
I never start vegetable seeds. That may seem unusual for an avid vegetable gardener, but the varieties found in local stores are more than adequate for my needs, and I 'd rather have the space for ornamental flowers. My daughter does grow vegetables from seeds so she sometimes gives me some unique varieties when we swap seedlings.
The majority of seeds I start indoors are plants I need immense quantities of, or herbs, or perennials (when I first moved here), but most usually an annual which is destined for my foundation beds. Some of the plants I have started from seed are: shasta daisies (successful but why bother when I can divide?), marigolds, impatiens (very rewarding), salvias (the varieties are SO much better by seed), perennial baby's breath (low germination rate but successful), carnations, gallardia, flowering tobacco (every little tiny seed will germinate when put on top of the soil, very easy to prick out and move around), vinca, basil (so many more varieties), parsley (still growing in the garden due to reseeding), chamomille (not successful), moonvine, sweet peas, chives (not too successful), alyssum (my favorite reseeder), cleomes (Why on earth? I only did it once, now of course they come every year and I advertise free seedlings on freecycle in the spring because I have too many), and helenium. Probably more but I can't think of them.
Whenever I had tried to grow seedlings early on in my gardening life, I experienced failure due to damping off. No matter what I did the seedlings would die. I have not had that problem since I went to the light system. Additionally, I use sterilized seed starter mix and make sure my seed flats are clean. Just as soon as I see a seedling pop up, I remove the plastic cover to ensure good air circulation. I also sometimes sprinkle milled spaghum moss on the surface of the flat after I have sowed the seed and use a ceiling fan on its lowest setting to circulate air even further.
One last tip to successfully grow seedlings, use bottom heat while germinating and growing the seedlings. Special mats are available from numerous catalog sources and Rural King usually has an excellent supply. I start seeds at different times and have found only one 48" mat and one 12" mat have worked for me. The initial investment is expensive for the mats, but they last forever and are well worth the expense, especially if you take the time to grow seeds in the first place. They really need the warmth in addition to good air circulation.
in the garden....getting ready to sow some seeds.