Garden: Itching to start growing vegetables? Now is a great time to start some seedlings (2024)

Mike Hogan| Special to The Columbus Dispatch

Many vegetable gardeners get a jump on the growing season by starting their own seeds indoors and February is the time to begin seeding cool-season crops such as onions, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, lettuce and greens. These crops can be transplanted outdoors into the garden even before the last frost of the season depending upon soil conditions.

Resist the temptation to start seeding warm-season crops indoors too soon, as these crops should be planted outdoors only after the last frost of spring, which typically occurs around May 1 in Greater Columbus. Warm-season crops include pepper, eggplant, tomato, beans, squash, melons, corn and others. Seeds of warm-season crops such as these should be started 6 to 8 weeks before the average date of the last spring frost, which means these seeds should be started indoors after March 6. Seeding any crop indoors too early can cause seedlings to become root-bound before they are transplanted and can make it more difficult to harden-off or acclimate larger seedlings to the outdoor environment in spring.

Benefits of growing your own seedlings

There are many benefits to starting vegetable seeds indoors, but the ability to select a wider range of varieties of crops is tops on the list of benefits for me.If you purchase seedlings at a garden center in May, few varieties of specific crops are typically available. Selecting varieties of vegetables with the exact traits you desire is more easily accomplished when you select the seeds you want and start them indoors. Starting seeds indoors also allows you to grow varieties of plants which have been proven to perform well in the specific conditions of your garden in past growing seasons.

Starting your own seeds can also save you money as purchasing a single seedling can cost more than an entire packet of seeds in some cases. But perhaps the greatest benefit to growing your own seedlings is the satisfaction and enjoyment that comes from getting a jump on the growing season and being able to actively garden during the winter in Greater Columbus.

Sunny windowsills rarely work

Lots of light will be needed to successfully start seeds indoors. The natural light received on a windowsill is seldom enough for good, strong seedling growth. Plant stems typically stretch and lean toward the light outdoors and will not produce sturdy plants.Acceptable growth rarely occurs on windowsills, although south-facing large bay windows and solariums can sometimes work.

More: Garden: Planting seeds in winter? Sure, several crops can be winter sown

Supplemental light will be needed to have success with growing seedlings indoors, with fluorescent light fixtures and tubes being the best options for growing transplants indoors. Light needed to grow seedlings indoors is measured by its intensity (closeness and brightness), duration (length of time the light is available), and quality (includes both red and blue wavelengths). Many types of grow lights are designed specifically for starting seeds indoors and are available to purchase online and in garden centers. Once you decide which lights you will use, you can design your growing space and determine which pots and trays will fit best with the size of the light fixtures you have chosen.

Getting started

Seeding trays and pots should be cleaned and sterilized before planting. Check lights and fans to be sure that they are in proper working condition.

Be sure to purchase the proper seeding media for starting your seeds indoors.Although an all-purpose or multi-purpose potting mix may work well for larger seeds such as squash or cucumber, a seed-starting mix that is designed specifically for starting seeds should be used for smaller seeds such as tomato, pepper, lettuce, eggplant and others.

A seedling heating mat placed under trays and pots can be especially helpful with warm-season crops and flowers. These crops require warmth to germinate, and if your growing space is in a cool location such as an unfinished basement, the extra warmth may be needed for optimum germination.

More: Garden: Here's how climate change is affecting the USDA Hardiness Zone plant map

Clear plastic domes that fit over the top of your trays can help keep the soil moist when seeds are germinating and seedlings are just getting started. These domes can be purchased online or at a garden center, or you can make your own out of clear plastic “clamshell” containers that small fruits, vegetables and salad greens are sold in at the grocery store.

Be sure you have a good plastic hand-held sprayer to wet the planting media without disturbing tiny seeds.A watering can with a narrow spout is most useful for watering seedlings after germination.

Selecting varieties

If you are unsure about which varieties of a specific vegetable crop to plant, check out our list of top producing vegetable varieties at go.osu.edu/2024topveggieproducers. This list contains vegetable varieties which have performed best in our Master Gardener Volunteer Veggie Trials garden on the OSU Columbus Campus. Varieties are evaluated for characteristics such as yield, taste, and insect and disease susceptibility. Vegetable plants grown in our Veggie Trials garden are grown in conditions similar to home vegetable garden sites in Greater Columbus.

Growing vegetable transplants indoors is about the most fun a gardener can have in February in Greater Columbus.

Mike Hogan is an Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources, and associate professor with Ohio State University Extension.

I am an expert in gardening and starting seeds indoors. I have extensive knowledge and experience in this area, and I can provide you with valuable information and insights.

Starting seeds indoors is a great way for vegetable gardeners to get a head start on the growing season. In February, it's the perfect time to begin seeding cool-season crops such as onions, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, lettuce, and greens. These crops can be transplanted outdoors into the garden even before the last frost of the season, depending on soil conditions.

However, it's important to resist the temptation to start seeding warm-season crops indoors too soon. Warm-season crops, including pepper, eggplant, tomato, beans, squash, melons, and corn, should be planted outdoors only after the last frost of spring, which typically occurs around May 1 in Greater Columbus. To determine the right time to start seeds indoors for warm-season crops, you should start them 6 to 8 weeks before the average date of the last spring frost. This means that these seeds should be started indoors after March 6.

There are several benefits to starting your own seeds indoors. One of the main advantages is the ability to select a wider range of varieties of crops. When you purchase seedlings at a garden center, you may have limited options. However, by starting seeds indoors, you can choose the exact varieties of vegetables with the traits you desire. This allows you to grow plants that have been proven to perform well in the specific conditions of your garden in past growing seasons.

Another benefit of growing your own seedlings is cost savings. Purchasing a single seedling can sometimes cost more than an entire packet of seeds. By starting your own seeds, you can save money and have a greater variety of plants in your garden.

To successfully start seeds indoors, you will need lots of light. Natural light received on a windowsill is usually not enough for strong seedling growth. Plant stems tend to stretch and lean toward the light outdoors, resulting in weak and leggy plants. Therefore, supplemental light is necessary for growing seedlings indoors. Fluorescent light fixtures and tubes are the best options for providing the necessary light intensity, duration, and quality for seedling growth. There are many types of grow lights available specifically for starting seeds indoors, which can be purchased online or at garden centers.

When starting seeds indoors, it's important to use clean and sterilized seeding trays and pots. You should also purchase the proper seeding media for starting your seeds. While an all-purpose or multi-purpose potting mix may work well for larger seeds, smaller seeds such as tomato, pepper, lettuce, and eggplant require a seed-starting mix designed specifically for starting seeds. Additionally, using a seedling heating mat under trays and pots can be helpful for warm-season crops, as they require warmth to germinate.

To keep the soil moist during germination, you can use clear plastic domes that fit over the top of your trays. These domes can be purchased online or at garden centers, or you can make your own using clear plastic containers. It's also important to have a good plastic hand-held sprayer for wetting the planting media without disturbing tiny seeds, as well as a watering can with a narrow spout for watering seedlings after germination.

If you're unsure about which varieties of a specific vegetable crop to plant, you can check out a list of top producing vegetable varieties at go.osu.edu/2024topveggieproducers. This list contains vegetable varieties that have performed best in the Master Gardener Volunteer Veggie Trials garden on the OSU Columbus Campus. These varieties are evaluated for characteristics such as yield, taste, and insect and disease susceptibility, and they are grown in conditions similar to home vegetable garden sites in Greater Columbus.

Starting your own seeds indoors can be a rewarding and cost-effective way to get a jump on the growing season. By following the proper techniques and providing the necessary conditions, you can enjoy a wider range of vegetable varieties and have a successful gardening experience.

I hope this information helps you with your seed starting endeavors. If you have any further questions, feel free to ask!

Garden: Itching to start growing vegetables? Now is a great time to start some seedlings (2024)
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