There are quite a few details to begin your own transplants.
Starting your own will only pay benefits if you want to transplant
several plants; otherwise, the seed cost — and it has gone up
dramatically the past few years — may be more than a four-pack of
plants. Of course, some people just enjoy raising their own from
seed, or they do it to make sure they get a variety they want.
I'll begin with the hardiness zone. For the Logan County and Menard
County areas, we are still in the 5b zone. The Sangamon County area
is now split, with Springfield being the border for zone 5b and zone
6a. The zone has shifted, with the border in our area now being
between 5b and 6a instead of 5a and 5b. What difference does this
make? The answer is about a three-week difference in seed starting
date. In zone 5b, we would want to start broccoli, cabbage,
cauliflower and lettuce (if that's something you want to transplant)
as early as March 5. Eggplant, herbs, pepper and tomato would be
started about March 25. Cucumber, muskmelon and watermelon are
started as early as April 15. The rule of thumb is to allow about
six weeks before you want to set the plants outside — hence the late
notice this year.
What should you plant your seeds in? You should use a sterile
growing medium. Several kinds of soil-less germinating mixes,
potting soils, peat cubes and compressed peat pellets are available.
These media are generally free from insects, diseases and weeds.
Enough fertilizer is generally present in these to allow for three
or four weeks of plant growth.
As far as sowing the seeds, traditionally seeds have been put in
shallow boxes in rows about 2 inches apart and covered lightly with
vermiculite. Soon after the seeds come up, they are transplanted
into other containers. An easier method is to start the seeds
directly in the final growing container. For small individual or
sectioned containers, it is common to plant two seeds per section.
The final container should match the seed (or plant) planting depth
to what it would be directly seeded in a garden.
Most seeds will germinate in a growing medium temperature of 60
to 70 degrees, but the melons and eggplants like it a bit warmer.
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Watering and fertilizing are just as important as when
seeding directly into a garden. Water can't be too much or too
little. The medium you are using also makes a difference, as
peat pellets tend to dry out quickly. Fertilizer should be in
the medium for the first three to four weeks. You can add a
soluble fertilizer to the water at the rate of 1 tablespoon per
gallon, to be used about once a week on established seedlings.
Non-fertilized water should be used between the fertilizer
Vegetable plants need direct light. Natural light only goes so
far in the winter months. We want to try to provide about 12 hours
of light a day on these transplants. Artificial lights work well to
supplement natural light, or provide all light in a basement
setting. Grow-light bulbs work well but are expensive. A combination
of cool white fluorescents and incandescent bulbs provides about the
same light spectrum. Lamps should be about 12 inches away from plant
Before your starts are transplanted outdoors, they should be
hardened gradually by exposing them to outside conditions. Start by
placing the plants outside a few hours a day. Use a very sheltered
area to protect from direct light and winds. Gradually extend the
time outdoors as planting time approaches. Remember, this process
takes at least six weeks, so don't wait until the week before you
are ready for transplants. Otherwise, you'll be in line buying
As for pruning fruit trees, finish them up now if needed. The
cold weather has delayed their development. On the question of
pruning back roses, you may want to wait just a bit longer. The
further cold weather predicted may cause further dieback in the
canes. In raspberries such as the Heritage, you should cut back tops
that produced last fall. You should also take out damaged, diseased
and dead canes.
University of Illinois Extension]