Continued success with seedlings

By now you have your seedlings started and they are growing successfully. With a few more tips, you will get the best from these seedlings so when you plant them outdoors you will have strong plants that will get a jump on the gardening season.
Never let your young tender seedlings dry out completely, but also do not let the soil remain soggy. On the really warm and sunny days you may have to water twice a day. Not only can potting mix dry out quickly, it also does not retain the nutrients that are important to the young seedlings.
You should supplement with a good fertilizer with a high middle number, which represents phosphorus. Phosphorus is essential for producing strong roots and stems in the early growing stages. Fertilizers with a high phosphorus content are sometimes called seedling fertilizers or transplant fertilizers. Whatever the name, just make sure that the middle number is the highest of the three. Also make sure that the fertilizer is a water-soluble powder or granule that can be mixed with water.
Always follow the directions for mixing exactly as described on the package. You can mix a larger quantity in a pail with a good cover, so you have it ready, if you wish. Just make sure you stir the solution well before using each time and keep it covered tightly so dirt, kids and pets do not get into the solution. Again, carefully follow the directions, for fertilizing seedlings, as indicated on the label. If there are not any instructions on the fertilizer specifically for seedlings, use the fertilizer solution when watering every second day. If you have to water your plants more than twice a day, only fertilize every couple of waterings, not every time.
Seedlings can grow rapidly as temperatures and the spring sun intensifies. Seedlings that are exposed to too much light and heat can grow very quickly, making for very spindly and weak plants.
If you are using a sunny window for light, make sure that you rotate the seedling trays regularly to ensure even light exposure. If you have to control the light or heat intensity in a very sunny window, hang a temporary curtain of sheer fabric to filter out the heat and light or move the seedlings to a window with less heat and light intensity for all or part of the day. This should help to slow down the growth of the seedlings. If you are using florescent lights to supplement your lighting schedule, do not hang them more than thirty centimetres from the plants when they are young.
When seedlings are grown in the house they are accustomed to controlled conditions. So before being planted outdoors, they need to be toughened-up so they can withstand the rigours and unpredictability of fluctuating temperatures and reduced soil moisture. This process is called hardening-off.
A few weeks before you will be ready to plant your plants out in the garden, you need to place them outdoors for a while each day.
Start by placing the seedlings outdoors for a few hours each afternoon in an area of your yard that is not in the direct sunlight and protected from strong breezes.
Next to the house is a good place to consider and do not put them outside if the temperature drops significantly. As time progresses, increase the time spent outdoors each day. A few days before you are going to out-plant the seedlings, leave them in the garage or shed overnight and then place back outdoors for the whole day.
If you don’t have a shed or garage, make a little tent for them with stakes and a heavy blanket suspended over them, ensuring blanket will not fall on and squish the seedlings. This process helps the plant to adjust to the difference in temperatures over a twenty-four hour period and the shed or garage protects the plants from frost or freezing overnight.
When hardening-off, you also have to keep in mind what the weather is doing. If we are still getting frost each night or temperatures are close to freezing, you won’t be putting the plants in the garden when you thought.
If this is the case, just prolong the hardening-off period until the temperatures and outdoor conditions are more conducive to planting the garden for the season. Remember that on average, there is a danger of frost at night until June 1 in our region. You cannot control Mother Nature, but you can protect your plants and garden so she isn’t as cruel.
With the gardening season just around the corner and proper care of your seedlings, you will be enjoying the garden much more this year. There is nothing quite like the satisfaction of seeing those plants produce a wonderful harvest and the taste of fresh produce all summer long.

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