We are now getting to the time of year where we can begin starting seeds indoors for transplants later this spring. Late February into March is when transplants can be started inside our homes, and spring will come eventually. Growing transplants from seeds takes more work than just buying transplants, but purchasing seed rather than plants is less expensive and you are able to get the varieties you really want, rather than just what is available in the nurseries.

It is best to wait until Mother’s Day to plant transplants of warm season crops into the garden. It takes about eight weeks to grow tomatoes and peppers from seed, so count backward from Mother’s Day to determine when to start the plants indoors. Since Mother’s Day this year is on May 13, the time to start tomatoes and peppers would be the middle of March. Don’t start your transplants too early, or they will get too tall and spindly.

Good transplants begin with good care. Start with good quality seed and a sterile soil or soil-less mixture. For growing media, you can use a potting soil, or a soil-less mixture that contains vermiculite, perlite, and/or peat moss. Just make sure that the growing media is well-drained and has been moistened prior to planting into it.

You can start the seeds in seed trays or other types of containers, and you can reuse pots or seed trays from previous years, just make sure all equipment has been cleaned thoroughly prior to reuse. To clean the pots, wash them in soap and then soak them for 10 minutes in a solution of one-part bleach to 10-parts water.

There are a lot of other, less expensive, containers that can be used to start seeds in. Newspapers can be reused to make a planting pot--just look for methods of how to fold them online. You can also use paper or plastic cups, small yogurt, sour cream or cottage cheese containers, soda or water bottles with the tops cut off and even small milk cartons. Just make sure that you make a few drainage holes in the bottom of these containers. If the container doesn’t have a drainage hole in it, the soil will not drain properly, causing problems, including death, for your seedlings.

Transplants need to be grown in favorable environmental conditions. Plants should be grown in temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees. Temperatures that are too cold or too warm can reduce the rate of germination or the plants may become leggy or grow improperly. Seedlings need 12-16 hours of light per day. This light should be kept about one inch above the plants as they grow, and this light should be moved up with the seedlings. This light source can be as simple and inexpensive as a utility light or shop light, with one cool and one warm fluorescent bulb. Fertilization can be applied weekly with a one-quarter strength, soluble fertilizer. Do not fertilize the seedlings if they were allowed to dry out. Replenish the moisture in the plants prior to applying fertilizer to avoid burning the seedlings.

Two weeks prior to planting outdoors in the garden, you will need to prepare the plants to outdoor conditions, this transition is called hardening off. Move the plants outdoors in the shade on non-windy days. Start out by placing the plants in sun for only an hour or two, gradually increase the length of time they are in the sun and the intensity of that sun. Be sure to still bring the plants indoors at night, especially if a frost is predicted. Also, keep them out of direct wind until they have hardened off.

If you have any further questions please contact Nicole Stoner at 402-223-1384, email nstoner2@unl.edu, visit the Gage County Extension website at www.gage.unl.edu or like Nicole Stoner's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/NicoleStonerHorticulture. Follow her on Twitter: @Nikki_Stoner.