Growing seedlings unlocks the door to thousands of plant varieties, all with their own unique flavors that you can’t find at grocery stores or nurseries.

It can also save you money… if you grow the seedlings correctly. But when you’re first starting out, it’s easy to make mistakes. And those mistakes can end up costing you more money and time, leaving you frustrated and wishing you’d just purchased the same ol’ hum drum varieties.

To help you grow healthy, robust seedlings, here are the top three mistakes new growers make when growing transplants.

Growing Seedlings Mistake # 1: No Substrate Nutrients

Seedlings don’t need nutrients to get their first few leaves out. But once those leaves emerge, seedlings need nourishment from their surroundings. Quite often, new growers fail at growing seedlings not because they don’t know that transplants need nutrients, but because they aren’t aware that their substrate doesn’t contain any.

The most common way this happens is with peat moss and coco coir. New growers will buy coco coir pods, for example, and plant in them expecting the seedlings to grow healthy.

But the reality is that coco coir and peat moss do not have ANY level of substantial nutrients for your transplants. If you use these substrates without adding a complete liquid nutrient profile, the seedlings aren’t going to make it.

Ideally, you would use an organic seedling mix with compost and worm castings. Whether you make your own seedling mix or buy one pre-made, make sure it has the nutrients your plants need to get a healthy start.

Growing Seedlings Mistake # 2: Not Enough Light

Once your seedlings germinate, they need light. Unless you’re growing in a greenhouse that gets plenty of sunlight year round, you want to supplement with full spectrum plant lights. Newly germinated seeds need 16-18 hours of artificial lighting!

It’s best to purchase grow lights from a company that specializes in agricultural lighting. With the popularization of LED lighting and cannabis growing, the plant light industry has exploded. As demand rises, there always emerges a subpar industry that wants to profit but doesn’t want to produce the quality. So lighting companies that specialize in garage and bathroom lighting, or nightclub and office lighting, are now selling LED lights as agricultural lighting. The problem is that their technology is often of lesser quality than companies who specialize in agricultural lighting.

Growing Seedlings Mistake # 3: Over or Under Watering

Watering plants is a challenging skill to master, and growing seedlings is no different! When growers first start growing transplants, they’ll either lean towards over or under watering. Avoid water extremes by practicing the following moisture tips:

Be sure you hydrate your substrate before you plant your seeds. For a starting place to gauge proper substrate hydration levels, pick up a handful of your substrate and squeeze. A few drops of water should fall out. If no water droplets fall, your substrate may be too dry. If a ton of water falls, your substrate is too wet. New growers (especially busy ones!) are often tempted to skip this step. If you do, the substrate can actually pull water from your seeds, not provide water to them.

If you find yourself low on time, you can still accomplish your task without cutting corners. Dump your seedling mix in a tub, and add some water. Put the lid on and walk away, letting the mix absorb the water while you do other tasks. After a few hours, check on the mix and stir it. Do the squeeze test. Repeat until you have the desired moisture level. This process takes much less time, and you’ll often get more moisture consistency throughout the mix than if you try to work the moisture evenly into the media by hand.  

Making sure your seedlings have nutrients, enough light, and adequate water will help ensure your transplants are healthy and robust. And once you get the hang of growing your own seedlings, you’ll gain access to thousands of exciting varieties you can’t find anywhere else.

Crystal Meserole
GYOV Instructor and Harvest Club Support

Crystal owns and operates a one-woman wholesale commercial living microgreen operation in the mountains of western North Carolina. After working and managing local restaurants for over a decade, she saw the need for chefs to have access to more affordable, organic food for the delicious creations they craft for our communities.

Crystal hopes to stand as a clear message to anyone who thinks they can’t grow: You can. Anyone can. With the right system, mindsets, and mentor, everything becomes possible.