Gardening Life

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Nurturing seeds and seedlings

The best-laid planting plans needn't go awry with these helpful tips

##Starting Seeds## * Pots or trays must be scrupulously clean. Wash containers in a 10-per-cent bleach solution to eliminate bacteria. * Always read the instructions on the seed packet, partifcularly for sowing and germination times, as they can vary by several weeks. * When sowing, mix tiny seeds such as petunia or impatiens with sand so you can tell where you have sprinkled them on the soil. * Seeds require moist, warm (18° to 24°C) soil to germinate. Use a waterproof heating mat available at most garden centres to provide bottom heat.

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##Caring for Seedlings## * Seedlings need 14 to 16 hours of light a day, so place them under flourescent lights. Keep lights no more than an inch or two away from the tops of seedlings for sturdy growth. * To prevent damping off (a fungal disease that makes seedlings collapse), use a fan for good air circulation and don't overwater. Water from the bottom by sitting the trays in about half an inch of water in larger pans for 20 minutes. * Thin out crowded seedlings by snipping off unwanted ones at the base with scissors; don't pull them out as you might damage the roots of adjacent seedlings. * When pricking out* (transplanting) seedlings, handle them by their leaves. Damaged leaves will regrow; damaged stems rarely recover. * Fertilize seedlings with gentle organic fertilizer at half strength. Lightly brushing your hands across the seedlings every day helps to make them stronger. * When seedlings are ready to be put into the garden, add some transplanting solution to the last watering before planting to encourage rapid root growth. *** Definition: Pricking out** Transplanting small seedlings to individual pots from the pot or tray in which the seeds were sown.

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