Larry Sagers
Warm soil temperatures are critical to get transplants, such as this lettuce, to germinate.

Many who can hardly wait to get started on their outdoor gardening find satisfaction in turning to their indoor gardening to get their fix. It gives them the connection they need to feel the soil between their fingers and know that spring is coming.

With such a wide variety of transplants available, one would wonder why you might spend the time and effort to grow your own. Transplants often give an earlier harvest or a beautiful floral display sooner in the season.

Growing your own starts also gives you access to new and unique plant cultivars that might not be available locally. Another possibility is that you may want to plant these plants before they are available in local outlets.

Make certain you start with good seed or starts. If the mother plant or the seed is questionable in quality, don't waste your time. Seeds must have a high germination percentage and must also produce a good crop of beautiful flowers.

Decide when you plan to move your transplants outdoors. After determining that date, count backward. For example, if the crop is a 10-week crop that you want to set out May 7, you would want to plant the seeds on Feb. 27.

While the recommendations for growing plants is produce them under ideal conditions, do not deviate too far from the recommended schedule. Tiny, poorly grown transplants do not grow well after moving, and overgrown transplants are quickly stunted.

Cleanliness is also important. Diseases, outbreaks or insect infestations can quickly destroy all of your hard work. Using recycled containers is fine, but make certain they are clean.

Mix one part 5 percent chlorine bleach with 9 parts clean water. Immediately immerse the used trays or pots and then let them dry in a clean area where they will not be in contact any soil.

Other types of growing containers include peat pots or compressed peat pellets. These plantable containers allow moving the plants into the garden with less transplant shock.

While you might think dirt is dirt, an experienced gardener only grows plants in soil — or more correctly — soil-free growing mix. Put garden soil in a container, plant a seed and start watering and it will quickly turn rock hard with no drainage.

All commercial growers now use artificial soils. These are usually peat moss-based mixes that have perlite, vermiculite, bark pumice or other components. These materials are well-drained and have excellent aeration, and they do not become compacted.

Vermiculite is excellent to germinate because the seeds emerge readily, but a commercial growing mixture will give better long-term growth for the plants.

The growing mixes are naturally free of insects and/or their eggs, disease organisms and weed seeds. This saves you many problems when trying to grow plants.

After preparing the containers and filling them with a good growing mix, it is time to do the seeding. It is easier to moisten the mixture before seeding.

One common mistake it to plant the seeds too deep. In general, plant the seeds about three times the diameter of the seed. Many very small seeds, including petunias and begonias, are so small that they should be just pressed into the soil.

Cover the containers with plastic wrap to hold in the moisture. If you presoaked the growing media, you should not need to add more moisture until the seeds germinate. Don't place covered containers in direct sunlight or they will overheat.

If you are directly planting into small cell packs or plug trays and the seeds are not too expensive, plant two seeds per pot.

As the plants grow, carefully clip off the smaller plant. Do not try to transplant it because that will disturb the root of the remaining plant and slow its growth.

Warm soil temperatures are critical for good germination. Most seeds germinate best from 65 degrees to 75 degrees F.

Some cool-season crops, including larkspur, snapdragon, sweet pea, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower, germinate best at about 55 degrees F. Watch daily for germination. Containers should be moved to bright light and the plastic bags removed as soon as germination is well under way.

Seeds are quickly killed if allowed to dry out during germination. Watch closely for development of any disease and control promptly. After germination, those plants listed as preferring cool temperatures should be placed in a cool location.

Most seeds are light neutral. This means the seeds do not react to light when germinating (they don't NEED light, but light won't hurt them.) Some flower varieties, such as impatiens, need light to germinate while others, such as specific geraniums, need total darkness to germinate. Check your seed packet for specific instructions.

Garden tips

Wasatch Community Gardens is offering beginning organic gardening workshops, Feb. 11, 10 a.m.-noon or 1-3 p.m., at the Salt Lake City Main Library, 210 E. 400 South. Cost is $10. For more information, visit wasatchgardens.org.

Thanksgiving Point is offering a four-week course on growing plants from seeds beginning Feb. 7, from 10 a.m.-noon or 5-7 p.m. Cost is $40.

Thanksgiving Point is also offering a home fruit production course beginning Feb. 7, from 2-4 p.m. or 6-8 p.m. Cost is $40.

To register for either class, call 801-768-4971 or visit www.thanksgivingpoint.com.

Larry A. Sagers is a horticulture specialist for the Utah State University Extension Service at Thanksgiving Point.