starting plants indoors

Abilene, TX

I have started some columbine seed indoors and let them get too dry for a day or two. Is all lost or can they recover? Thanks C

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

May be OK, however, columbine is one seed that needs special care to sprout. In the wild, it gets cycles of cold moist periods in the ground over winter to make it sprout. Is thisat all familiar to you? called stratification.

Coventry, RI(Zone 6a)

Last year I attempted to start herb seed in little peat pots and lost everything to damping off. Instead, ended up buying 3" plants already established. My husband made me a cool grow light stand out of PVC pipe and I used reptile heating pads (at the time couldn't afford to invest a real one) with a timer and still lost everything. I want to try again this year and soon. Is it advisable to make the investment in the seed starting sets like the Burpee 72-cell greenhouse you can pick up at the local hardware stores? Does the plant heating mats make that much of a difference?

Windsor, ON(Zone 6a)

There is a product available on the market to prevent damping off. It is called No-Damp. It is available in Canada and I assume it should be available in the US. All you do is mix with water and water seedlings.

Benton, KY(Zone 7a)

On the first question about the columbine, stratification is necessary for germination. The seeds need to be refrigerated for about 4 weeks before planting. If you haven't done this, and the seeds haven't sprouted, I'd try damping the mix again and popping everything in the fridge. Make sure you label the container...'these are NOT not eat!'

If the plants have sprouted and have dried out, I'm afraid you must try again. If they are only wilted a bit, water, and see if they recover.

To the second question...

I don't have an expensive set-up at all....and no heat mats. I start thousands of seedlings every year. Depending on the variety of plant, there are some that need warmth and some do just fine at room temps.

I don't use peat pots, plugs, cubes or pellets....they are hard to keep properly moist, and set you up to fail.

I use any old container with holes in the bottom. I fill with slightly moist STERILE seed starting mix. Potting soil will not do. You must maintain a sterile environment. I wash my containers in a bleach solution of a cup of bleach to a sink full of water. You can reuse the black cells that your annuals came in last year, yogurt cups, or get the black trays and inserts that you fill yourself...(do not get the peat pellets)

Moisten your mix the day before you plant with warm water. It needs to feel like a well wrung out sponge...any wetter is too wet. If you get it too wet, wait till it dries some, or add more mix. Do not plant in wet medium.

Plant your seeds according to's best not to mix containers with seeds that have different requirements.

If you have one of the kits with a dome, put it over the tray....if not, loosely cover with plastic wrap. You don't have to seal it. The purpose of the cover is only to regulate moisture till the seeds sprout, nothing else.

If more than a small mist spot about the size of a quarter appears on the cover overnight, your mix is too wet and you should remove the cover.Remove the cover as soon as the seeds start to sprout and put them under lights. The seedlings no longer have any need for the cover.

As far as heat mats, I don't use them. If a seed needs more heat than room temp, (70*) needs, I put the tray on my seed starting shelf and turn on the light below it. This does the trick quickly and cheaply.

Always water from the bottom and let the containers take up moisture this way. If the top of the mix isn't wet all the time, and you've used sterile mix, damp-off shouldn't be a problem.

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