Once the winter thaw begins to uncover the grass and the first crocus pushes through the soil, it’s easy to begin dreaming of your spring and summer goals in the garden. But before you dust off the shovels, order soil from the local nursery, and rush outside, you might want to consider keeping your efforts indoors a little longer. Those sneaky spring frosts can quickly dismantle any early season efforts you’ve put into the yard so a better plan might be to begin your gardening inside your home, garage, or greenhouse with the aid of seed trays. There's many other benefits to seed trays besides just frost protection.
Why to Use Seed Trays
Early Season Starts
Seed trays are a great way to get your seeds germinating well before the ground in the garden is ready for planting. This is especially useful in areas where the growing season is short and the cold-weather season is long. In addition to getting a kickstart to your typical garden favorites, it also allows you to grow things that you normally could not grow. For example, if your hot summer season is short, you may not be able to grow jalapeno peppers. But if you give them an early start in seed trays and transplant when they’ve grown into small plants, your chances of success are high!
Using seed trays saves you money because, as the name implies, they allow you to grow you plants from seed form which is much less costly than buying a grown plant.
Depending on what you are planting, a package of seeds might run you around $4 whereas each small plant, some only a few inches tall, can easily cost you the same. The key difference is that the seed package has the potential to grow dozens if not hundreds of your favorite crop at an extremely discounted start-up cost.
Additionally, the trays themselves are often durable enough to be maintained through multiple uses. Simply clean your tray with water between uses and save even more.
How to Use Seed Trays
You will need soil that has been cut in with some compost for added nutrients, seed trays, a flat stick or large putty knife, marking pen, plant markers, and your seeds.
Begin by adding the combined soil to the seed tray by pressing the dirt in firmly so it fills all corners. Then moisten your soil with a few waves of water from the hose, dialed to a shower or sprinkle stream so that the pressure doesn’t rearrange your soil. Once moist, disperse your seeds around the dirt, leaving spaces between them as directed by your seed packets. Larger seeds should be placed with one in each hole. Smaller seeds should be grouped 2-3 per hole. You will thin out extra plants once they germinate and begin to grow. Gently cover the seeds with the appropriate amount of dirt. Keep your layer thin, but make sure to cover the seeds completely. Then press down the dirt again.
Once your seeds are planted, make sure to label them. It’s easy to think that you will remember what you’ve planted but don’t leave it to chance. You can use purchased plastic plant labels or just use popsicle sticks or other flat wood you have around. You can also use small cards mounted to a stick that are covered in protective plastic. Regardless of what you use to label your plants, be sure to include the plant type and the date you planted them. You may also want to include an estimated date that you will want to replant.
Because the soil in seed trays is shallow, you’ll want to make sure that it doesn’t dry out as your seeds germinate and grow. Each plant is different so review your seed packet directions. Most plants need moist soil so stick your finger into the soil to test for moisture. Because most plants need direct sunlight, you will want to place the seed trays in a greenhouse or keep them near a window with plenty of light. You may also want to use grow lights for additional heat and light. Once the plants push through the surface and grow a few inches tall, thin out the number of plants by pulling the smaller, frail, or weaker looking plants. You can try to separate the plants you thin and replant them, but expect only marginal success.
Once the weather has warmed and the threat of frost has passed, you can prep the ground and replant your seed tray starts. Fill your beds with a combination of soil, compost, and nutrients. Plant the entire start with all of the soil it has been growing in. Be sure to read about the appropriate spacing for your plants as you put them in the ground so they have adequate room to grow throughout the season.
Seed trays are a great way to kickstart your gardening before Mother Nature gets around to changing the seasons. Plan and plant ahead and grow the lasting, prolific garden you desire!