Indoor Plant Starting Guide

February 3, 2016

It’s not too early for avid gardeners to start preparing and planting their spring and summer vegetables. For retailers, this means consumers will be in the market for seeds and indoor growing supplies in the very near future, if they haven’t already begun shopping for them.

Starting seeds indoors sounds like a simple process; however, it can require more than just seeds and dirt to achieve success. Among the tools and products needed include:

Planting containers: Although practically any material that holds soil and has good drainage would suffice, one of the optimal choices would be molded-cell trays or trays with inserts. Made from plastic, recycled paper, or coconut fiber, these trays contain individualized cells for seeds to germinate in a protected environment. Several brands, such as Jiffy (www.jiffypot.com), offer clear “greenhouse” lids to aid in retaining heat and moisture, which are essential for seed germination, and there are several trays that also include watering systems, like Gardener’s Supply Company’s GrowEase Seed Starting Kits (www.gardeners.com).

Growing medium: While many gardening beginners believe garden soil would be adequate for starting seeds, it is really only best for direct sowing when outdoor conditions are adequate, and only for certain plants. When starting seeds indoors, try either a proprietary mix, like Miracle-Gro Seed Starting Potting Mix (www.miraclegro.com) or a personal mix of sterile soil-less medium containing items like coconut fiber, perlite, finely shredded decomposed bark, vermiculite, or peat moss. These are not only weed free, but light enough to allow seeds to grow, and they will provide moisture as well as adequate drainage.

Heat and Moisture: In order for seeds to germinate properly indoors, they need proper environmental conditions that mimic the outdoors; this means maintaining optimal temperature and moisture levels. Several products can be offered to help achieve this—among them are:

  • Watering cans and misters
  • Heat mats, like those by Hydrofarm (www.hydrofarm.com) or Viagrow (www.viagrow.biz) maintain temperatures in the proper range to aid in seed growth.
  • Greenhouses. Even when starting plants indoors, greenhouses can be very beneficial to plant germination by retaining moisture and heat, as well as preventing drafts from hindering plant growth. Several options exist, from starting kits with combined lids, to tabletop glass enclosures, to compact multi-tiered, freestanding units with clear plastic covers.

Light: Plants need light to grow, and while natural light from a south-facing window is a fine option, customers may not always have that option, and young seedlings require closer, more direct light in order to develop strong stems. Thankfully, there are lights available specifically for indoor seed germination and seedling growth. Adjustable freestanding units, as well as fixtures that attach to greenhouse shelves or hang from ceilings, provide the spectrum of light needed to get seedlings off to a good start.

Fertilizer: Because soil mixes for seedlings often do not contain the nutrients needed for seedling growth, fertilizers will have to be added to ensure strong plants. Liquid fertilizers work better than slow release, as they meet the immediate needs of plants before they are transferred into the garden. A diluted solution of fertilizer products like Maxicrop Liquid Seaweed (www.maxicrop.com) or General Organics BioMarine (www.generalhydroponics.com) or a “tea” made from worm castings such as UNCO Industries Wiggle Worm Earthworm Castings (www.vermiculture.com) can help give plants a growing boost.

Other tools and products can also be useful for indoor seed starting: tarps for protecting floors and other surfaces, chain or wire for adjusting hanging light fixtures, small tools for separating and transplanting delicate seedlings, plant stakes and markers for labeling, and temperature and moisture gauges for monitoring seedling environment. Retailers can also assist customers by helping them create customized starter kits that can suit their individualized needs—a service that can help foster future sales throughout the gardening seasons.

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