Tested by Niki Jabbour, the award-winning author of Growing Under Cover and The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener, who lives and gardens in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
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Eliminate plastic waste with a sturdy soil blocker
One of my garden goals is to reduce the amount of plastic I’m using, and seed starting typically involves plastic pots, plastic cell packs, plastic plug flats, and plastic trays. This is where soil blocking comes in. A soil blocker is a metal mold that makes cubes of potting mix and is a plastic-free way to start seeds. Growing seedlings in soil cubes also promotes a dense and robust root system and reduces the risk of transplant shock. The hand-held soil blocker from Johnny’s Selected Seeds creates perfect 2-inch cubes, which I use to start many types of vegetable, herb, and flower seeds.
Use this seedling heat mat to encourage germination
I’ve been starting seeds indoors for over 35 years, but it’s only been about five years since I bought my first seedling heat mat. I always assumed they were unnecessary, but I have since learned that the gentle warmth provided by these mats both speeds up germination times and increases germination rates, particularly of warm-season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. A 19½-inch by 9-inch mat like the one offered by Gardener’s Supply Company is the perfect size for a standard 1020 seedling tray, but there are larger sizes available to accommodate multiple trays. As soon as my seeds are sown, I place the tray on top of the mat, leaving it plugged in 24 hours a day. When about half of the seeds have sprouted, I turn the mat off and remove it.
Price: $40 (19½-inch by 9-inch); $57 (20¾-inch by 20¾-inch); $93 (48-inch by 20-inch)
Choose an energy-efficient grow-light system
The best way to encourage the growth of healthy, vigorous seedlings is to use a grow light. My go-to grow light is the Floralight T5 LED full-spectrum multitier grow-light stand from Lee Valley. The LED tubes mimic natural sunlight and are energy efficient, running cooler than fluorescent bulbs. They also have a long lifespan. I have the three-tier model, which is built from steel and fitted with removable plastic trays to hold seedling flats or pots. It offers plenty of space for the hundreds of seedlings I start each spring and can even be used to grow microgreens, kitchen herbs, or houseplants in the offseason. Plus, it’s easy to adjust the height of the fixtures as the seedlings grow so that they receive maximum light.
Price: $519 (two-tier); $869 (three-tier)
This watering can with two spouts works in multiple situations
Knowing when and how to water seedlings is an important skill for seed starters to learn. The goal is to maintain a lightly moist growing medium, as too much or too little water can impact plant health. But the way you water can also affect young plants. A strong flow of water may damage or crush delicate seedlings. To help me water efficiently, I use the Haws 2-liter plastic watering can from Lee Valley. It comes with two different spout ends: a teapot spout that is perfect for bottom-watering soil blocks or cell packs, and a round, brass-faced rose for gentle overhead watering. This watering can is perfectly balanced and makes it easy to deliver just the right amount of water to your seedlings.
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