Sunday, June 01, 2008

Seedling Care - Instructions to My Son in Azerbaijan

Its too bad it took 5 weeks for those seeds to get to you, but I am happy to hear that you are proceeding. I expect that now your seeds have sprouted and you are ready for instructions on the next step.

Seedling Care

The seedlings need lots of light, and they need warmth to grow quickly. If put outside they may dry out too quickly and since night temps are lower outside that indoors, it is a good idea to keep them inside, as they will grow faster.

So if you have a sunny windowsill, put them on. This is when things get messy. Soil and water comes out of the containers when watering. Put on top of plastic to protect countertops, windowsills or whatever.

The care you give your seedlings in the weeks following germination is critical. Keep moist, but not dripping, as excess wetness will encourage a fungus called damping off*, which kill seedlings. Small pots and flats dry out quickly, so check it often. How can you tell if the soil is dry? The soil shrinks from the edges of the container. The container is light. Or the worst indicator is that the plants are wilting. This is very bad. You want to avoid this!

If your seedlings are growing in a windowsill, turn often to encourage straight stems. Also, gently brush the palm of your hand against the tops of the seedlings to encourage strong stem growth. (I have never tried this. I only read it for the first time today).

The first two leaves you will see on the plant are not true leaves but food storage cells called cotyledons. Once the first true leaves have developed, it's time to start fertilizing. Choose a good liquid organic fertilizer (10-10-10 or 20-20-20) and use a half-strength solution once a week.

About a week after germination, you need to thin your seedlings. You probably have noticed that you have waaaaayyyy more plants than you can use. Start by snipping off at ground level (not pulling out) the weaker and slower seedlings. Send me a pick and I will give you further instructions. Crowding will decrease air circulation, which encourages damping off, so thin them!


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