Am starting this year to grown plants, annuals from seed and wondered what is the best time to start. regarding grow lights - should they stay on for how long during the day ? and use sunlite whenever possible, if it ever shines again -
I've never grown annuals from seed except lobelia but all the veggies I've done depend upon how tender the adult plants are and how slow they grow to judge when to start them inside. What do you plan on starting?
Re: grow lights, I normally keep them on for around 14 hours per day (I think that the recommendation is for a minimum of 12 and a maximum of 16 hours) on a timer that starts around 5:00am and I try to start the plants in a sunny window just to help out. Also, if you have a fan it might help to lightly run it on the seedlings once they've been started to get them used to wind (and make them grow a lot sturdier).
Sunlite is great ... if the darn weather doesn't freeze the plants next to the windows tonite!!!
You can also look on the back of your seedpackets to see if they have the "Start indoors.." info. Also, check out the Growing From Seed Forum.
I used to start my seeds indoors (using sunlight), but now I put almost everything outside in covered containers. Everything comes up fine, and I have so many seedlings. More info is on the Winter Sowing Forum.
I start seeds under a light set-up beginning in March. You could do snapdragons, pansies and others in January, but they sell them in garden centers so why bother.I have a list of plants I grow, and when to start them. You might want to get a book on it (Seeds to Bloom is one). I also use a little pamphlet that Thompson and Morgan sent years ago, which has cultural directions for 100's of plants.
Some seeds need light to germinate and some need to be stratified (placed in the fridge for a few weeks.) Start with easy ones that are sold in most garden centers and check the packets for directions.
I cover the seeds with a layer of finely milled sphagnum moss to prevent fungus, then cover loosely with plastic wrap to keep in moisture till germination (I check everyday), and place in a tray of water for a few minutes till the soil is moist. You may have to work the soil first with your hands and some water if it doesn't soak up water. Do a test first.
I put the seed paks under the lights, keeping them no farther than 2 inches away from the bulbs. Closer is better. Any farther and they will get leggy. I also keep a window cracked open to circulate air. Once I tried it closed and the whole lot got fungus. Never again. You can use a fan. Like makalu said, running your hands across the seedlings everyday toughens them up during the growing time.
Don't put them into the sun till you are ready to plant them out in spring, and do it gradually, 15 minutes the first day, increasing time over a week. Keep them outside in the shade once you have put them out, but take them in for a really cold night.
Very tiny seed shouldn't be covered. Other seed (that doesn't need to be exposed to light...the package should tell you this.....) should be covered to 3 times their thickness as a general rule. The tricky seeds are the ones that need to be surface sewn in the dark, prechilled for weeks and grown cold at night and warm in day. HA. Save those for when you become a seed starting fanatic like me.
As I age, I am liking it less and less, but I'm hooked on the unusual plants that you can't buy at Adams, so I am forced to babysit my babies from March (the general starting time) through June (last planting time.). The things we do for love...
You will learn as you go. Take notes! so you don't repeat mistakes. After all these years, I still start some seeds too soon and end up with overgrown seedlings that are too leggy to plant. Seeds like zinnias and cosmos do best when directly sewn. They will always surpass the earlier started seeds. Have fun. You may discover a new passion.
If its a self seeding annual you can winter sow it now, stick it outside in its container and forget about lights as long as it gets the winter sun. If its not self sowing you can winter sow it in late March and save on your light bill! As you can see I am a real advocate of winter sowing , if you haven't checked out that forum on Garden Web you may want to learn about the winter sowing process before you start planting.
Here is a link that might be useful: Our pond and gardens