Continued success with your 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.
Now that the seedlings are growing, and the outdoor temperature has warmed up and the sun has increased in intensity, your seedlings may dry out quickly.
Remember: never let your young tender seedlings dry out completely, but also do not let the soil remain soggy. On really warm and sunny days, you may have to water twice a day.
If you have trouble keeping up with the watering, you can add a synthetic chamois cloth, old cotton toweling, or multiple layers of newspaper in the bottom of the tray and then soak bottom of the tray with water to help keep the pots from drying out.
This is especially helpful if you are away from home for extended periods.
Not only can potting mix dry out quickly, it also does not retain the nutrients that are important to the young seedlings. As such, 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 the middle number is the highest of the three).
Also make sure the fertilizer is a water soluble powder or granule that can be mixed with water. And 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 it.
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. If you are using a sunny window for light, make sure you rotate the seedling trays regularly to ensure even light exposure.
Seedlings exposed to too much light and heat can grow very quickly, making for very spindly and weak plants.
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 12 inches from the plants when they are young. Then move the lights up only a few inches at a time as the seedlings grow near the light while you still have them indoors.
Tall and spindly plants are very susceptible to disease, often do not survive out-planting, or can take extra time to acclimate once in the garden—taking away from precious days of setting roots and making vegetables.
When seedlings are grown in the house or the greenhouse, they are used to controlled conditions. Before being planted outdoors, they need to be toughened up so they can withstand the rigours and unpredictability of the growing conditions outdoors, like fluctuating temperatures and reduced soil moisture.
This process is called hardening- off.
A few weeks before you’re 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 in your yard that is not in the direct sunlight.
Also at this time, you want to reduce the watering process a bit—again never let them become really dry but if they do not need watering every day, then hold off until the soil is dry to the touch.
As time progresses, increase the time spent outdoors each day. If the weather turns windy or cold, put the seedlings out but make sure you protect them while outdoors.
Just a few days before you are going to out-plant the seedlings, leave them in the garage or the shed overnight and then place back outdoors for the whole day.
This helps the plant to adjust to the difference in temperatures over a 24-hour period while 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. You cannot control Mother Nature, but you can protect your plants and garden so she isn’t as cruel.
With 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.