Seedling with its first leaves and its true leaves.
image by Emanuel Lobeck/sxc.hu
Whether you start your own flower seeds or purchase seedlings from a nursery, taking proper care of them to ensure optimal plant health leads to a healthier, more lush garden. Most seedlings are started indoors to give them a jump on the growing season so they are bigger and better able to deal with the elements and pests than their outdoor grown counterparts. Taking care of them includes proper maintenance until transplanting, along with following the right steps when you finally move them to the garden.
Start seedlings in a sterile seed-starting soil mix. This prevents fungus and disease from being present in the soil.
Keep the soil moist--but not soaking wet--at all times. Water each time the surface soil begins to dry to avoid over watering.
Water from the bottom of the seedling container when possible to avoid disturbing the stem or roots. Discard any excess water in the bottom trays of the containers after three hours.
Place seedling is a brightly lit window where they are not subjected to drafts or under grow lights. Use artificial lighting, either 40-watt incandescent bulbs or florescent bulbs instead of sunlight. Give seedlings 12 to 16 hours of light daily, or what is recommended for the flower variety.
Keep seedlings in an area where they are warm but not too hot---65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal. Place away from air vents and heaters, which will dry out the soil faster.
Apply a general liquid fertilizer at half strength every one to two weeks after the seedlings are 2 to 4 weeks old.
Pinch off the very tips of the growing stems once the seedlings are 6 inches tall. This encourages a fuller plant and creation of more stems, which leads to greater flowering.
Prepare seeds for transplanting outdoors two weeks before moving outside by hardening them off. Place outside in a protected area, such as a porch, for three hours during the day. Gradually increase the time they spend outdoors until they are spending a full day outside at 2 weeks.