Potting up seedlings

Potting up seedlings – one person’s technique

So many baby plants…

I started these seedlings by sowing a bunch of seeds together – each type in one container.  At this stage its been about 3 weeks since the seeds were sown.

The seedlings have some true leaves now so its time to move them to individual cells to grow on.

To get this far, I just followed the directions on the seed packet. Pay attention to the timing when you start the seeds so the seedlings are the optimum size to plant out. Also, note whether the seeds need light to germinate and do not cover those types with seed starting mix, just surface sow them.

In the past, I would try to start seeds like these in individual cell packs because it seemed like more work to start them in one container and then transfer them.  But over time I discovered this method is actually easier for me for certain kinds of seeds.

Sometimes the seeds are so tiny it’s hard to get just a couple in each cell, so you end up with “clumps” you need to thin. (Not to mention wasted seed and the heartbreak of ruthlessly destroying all the extra baby seedlings.)  Some of the seeds germinate erratically (I find this more true with perennial flowers than annuals) so you end up with a bunch in one cell and none in another.  With this method I can grow on the strongest seedlings and have one in each cell.

To pot them up, first I fill a cell flat with sterile seed starting mix and make a hole in the center of each cell.  I want to have a new home ready for the seedlings before I remove them from their old one

Then I gently remove the soil and seedlings from the tray where they are growing by tipping it upside down into my hand and setting the soil clump down.  Break it apart gently to free the seedlings.

They’re OK… really
Cute little guy…

Then pluck out a seedling.  Make sure you handle it by a leaf – not by the stem.  If the leaf gets a little squished or torn, no big deal. But if the stem gets damaged it can be the demise of the seedling.

Then just tuck the little guy’s roots into the hole in the cell and gently push the soil in place.

In their new home

Once I have all the seedlings in the flat, I water them with a very gentle stream of plain water. I use a watering can but cover most of the hole with my finger to get a very small stream.  You could also use a spray bottle.  The water from the top helps settle the soil around the roots of the seedling.  Sometimes they tip a bit when you water, you can straighten them back up but they often straighten on their own.

The seed trays need to be placed back under good light to grow on, either grow lights or a very sunny window.

I like to use self-watering seed starting trays although other containers are fine, you just need to be more watchful. Self-watering trays make my life so much easier because I can go for a while between filling the water reservoir. As the plants get bigger, you may be surprised at how often you need to water them. They look small but are growing quickly and the grow lights or sun light can dry the soil quickly.

At this stage I start using some liquid fertilizer in the water because the seed starting mix does not have much nutrition for the plants. I mix it about one quarter strength.

Here is my set-up with self-watering trays and grow lights. You can see I still use recycled yogurt cups too! I try to get the seedlings as much light as possible by lowering the light close the to seedlings. I also have it on a timer to get 16 hours of light a day.

Starting the Seed Starting

Starting onions and cold season flowers

I start my first seeds about mid February.  I start onions and some of my flowers including some perennial flowers. I also gamble on an early crop of broccoli, cabbage and lettuce – always hopeful that we’ll have an early spring

For the onions, I start them in small pots or flats (recycled yogurt cups here).  I plant the seeds in moist seed starting mix and cover the container with Press-n-seal (I like that I can re-use it) until the seeds germinate.  Once they are up, I take off the cover and put them under grow lights or into the greenhouse window to grow on. Its important to use a sterile seed starting mix to avoid damping off disease.

If the onion little plants get a bit ungainly and start to tangle up, I just trim their tops.  They will be ready to go in the vegetable garden end of March (weather permitting).  I just break apart the clump and plant them individually. They go in as kind of wimpy little threads that you don’t think can survive.  But they do.  They’re tougher than they look!

Some flower seeds need a pretty long period of growth indoors (some 10 weeks). The more cold hardy ones (like snapdragons) can actually be planted out before the last frost date provided you harden them off first. So for some flowers its not so crazy to start them in February. Pay attention to the seed packet instructions though. Starting seeds too early can result in weak spindly seedlings by planting time. Bigger is not always better.

I start these kinds of flower seeds the much same way as the onions, but pay attention to the growing instructions because some flower seeds need light to germinate and should not be covered with the starter mix.  I also give the flower seeds some bottom heat with a seed starting heat pad to help them germinate.

Once they get a few true leaves I’ll transplant them into flats to grow on before going outside in April or May. 

I resisted this for a long time. It seemed like so much more work to do the transplanting instead of just starting the seeds right in the cells of the flats.  But it actually works so much better for me, especially for extremely small seeds or ones the germinate erratically.  I waste less seed and I can transplant the strongest seedlings – so I end up with a strong plant in every cell of the flat.

I start cabbage, broccoli and lettuce in mid February too.  It’s a bit early, but I want to be ready in case of an early spring.  These I seed directly into a self-watering flat with 2-3 seeds in each cell.  If more than one germinates, I’ll cut off the weaker ones and let the strongest seedling grow on.

After growing for a month and a half they will (hopefully) go into the garden in March.

Choosing Tomato Varieties

How to select tomato varieties for your growing conditions

By Brenda Troutman

Tomato seedlings

Tomatoes are the number one fruit (technically speaking) grown by home gardeners and the most popular vegetable in the world. Climate change has led to more weather extremes in cold, heat (especially), drought and rain creating challenges to growing specialty crops. Environmental stressors reduce the quality of plants and their ability to set fruit. When deciding which tomato plants to grow there is an abundance of choices.  Some tomato varieties are better suited for temperature extremes then others.

Tomato plants are warm blooded and should not be planted outside until the soil temperature is above 60 degrees during the day (50 degrees night) and all danger of frost has past. Springs unpredictability and fluctuating temperatures can frustrate an over zealous gardener like myself who started tomato seeds indoors in January. These bush (determinate) or vine (indeterminate) plants do best when temperatures are between 65-85 degrees and the plants receive six or more hours of full sun daily. When temperatures drop below 65 degrees the plants will suffer, stunting plant growth and delaying fruiting. “Blossom drop” occurs when the days are warm but the nights dip below 55 degrees. The flowers fall off before being pollinated, and no fruit is set.

Pollination usually occurs between the hours of 10 AM to 2 PM. When summer temperatures reach 90 degrees during the day and do not drop much below 76 degrees at night (add in high humidity) pollen granules burst, preventing pollination. The plants go into survival mode, losing their flowers to conserve moisture.

Providing shade during the hottest part of the day, mulching to keep soil cool and moist and extra watering will help tomatoes beat the summer heat. Determinate varieties that have shorter “days to maturity” or “days to harvest” will have mature fruit before the summer heat kicks in. Once the flowers are pollinated and the fruit is set, the bulk of the tomatoes will ripen within two weeks after which the plants will start to die back.

Luckily, there are tomato varieties (hybrid and heirloom) referred to as “cold set” or “heat set” that can tolerate temperature extremes.

A partial list of varieties that will set fruit at or below 55 degrees (cold set) includes, Early Girl, Celebrity, Gold Nugget, Bush Beefsteak, New Yorker and Glacier. Many of these varieties also mature in a shorter amount of time 52-70 days making them a good choice for a late season fall planting. When temperatures do threaten to fall below 55 degrees, covering the plants with clear plastic can warm things up by as much as 20 degrees.

Just like there are cold tolerant varieties, there are tomato plants that can take the heat. Examples of hybrids are Bella Rosa, Big Beef, Florida, 4 of July, Heatwave, Homestead, and Sweet 100. Some heirloom varieties are Green Zebra, Sioux, Quarter Century and Arkansas Traveler. But even these varieties have their limits. When temps reach mid 90’s during the day and do not fall much below 80 degrees at night, production is hampered.

Choosing tomato varieties that best match your growing conditions can maximize the yield from your garden.

Seed Catalog Bounty

Things to think about when purchasing seeds.

Seed catalogs

They arrive during the coldest, shortest days of the year when gardeners are at their most optimistic (and vulnerable)…

THIS! This will be the year when the garden is perfect!  The flowers will boom profusely unmarred by powdery mildew and Japanese beetles.  The vegetable garden will be abundant (all of it, not just the zucchini) and the slugs will take themselves off leaving the seedlings whole and the cabbage unmolested. 

If it’s going to be that great, I better order some extra stuff…. 

Sigh, hope springs eternal.  Especially when looking at all those lovey, glossy pictures in seed catalogs while snow swirls outside..

I try to rein myself in, but it’s hard sometimes.  I especially have a weakness for seeds.  What harm could a few extra packs do? My only control mechanism is to force myself to plan out where I will put everything I buy.  I still end up with too much stuff, but it’s not as bad as it could be!

Seeds are a great way to grow plants, but there are a few things to think about before purchasing seeds…

  • As I said, have some idea of where you’ll plant the seedlings you intend to grow – matching the growing conditions required (amount of sun, moisture and soil type) with the spaces you have in your yard.
  • Can the seeds be directly sowed in the garden or do you need to start them in advance inside the house? Seedlings need good light to get a strong start and you may need to add supplemental lighting. With inadequate light, seedlings will be thin, leggy and weak.
  • Seedlings need your care and attention while they are growing large enough to be planted out. Do you have the space and the time to care for seedlings for 6, 8 or even 10 weeks? The seed catalog should have information on how much time a particular seedling will need. Some seed suppliers have seed starting calculators to help you plan. (You can find the last expected frost date for your area here.)
  • Consider the source of the seeds. Seeds coming from hardiness zones similar to where you live may be better adapted to your growing conditions.
  • You will need containers and a sterile growing medium to start your seeds if you are starting them indoors, plus well lit room for all those little pots.

Starting seeds can be extremely satisfying, especially when you see those lovely blooms or bite into that juicy tomato from a plant you started from a wee little seed. But a little advance thought and planning will help avoid frustration.

Become a Master Gardener

Are you a gardening enthusiast who:

  • Loves learning about horticulture including best practices based on scientific research?
  • Has a desire to promote environmental stewardship?
  • Is willing to share your knowledge and experiences to educate others?
  • Is dedicated to supporting your local community through volunteering?

If so, consider becoming a Penn State Extension Master Gardener!


Join a group of like-minded gardeners and have fun volunteering while creating lifelong friendships.  You do not need to be a gardening “expert, just enthusiastic, willing to learn and willing to share your knowledge with others. Penn State Extension provides training and wonderful continuing education opportunities.

“What I love about being a Master Gardener is the combination of great friendly members, ability to learn about and access terrific information about all aspects of gardening, and the willingness of members to share tips and help fellow members resolve “thorny” problems. I’ve been a Master Gardener for 16 years and it’s been nothing short of enjoyable on every level! “


Applications for becoming a Master Gardener will be accepted through April 26, 2019.  Interviews will be held in mid-May, and the Master Gardener Basic Training for Delaware County begins in mid-August.

Basic training includes 15 classes taught by Penn State University and Extension staff and a hard-covered Master Gardener Manual with over 750 pages.  The Basic Training fee is only $200, and a limited number of partial scholarships are also available.

The classes will be held at the Government Services Building, 601 Westtown Rd., West Chester. (Delaware County is jointly training with Chester County). They will be on Thursdays from 12 noon until 3 pm, beginning on August 15th and ending on December 5th. Please contact us if this conflicts with your schedule, as we may be able to make alternate arrangements.

Master Gardener trainees are required to participate in a minimum of forty hours of basic training, score 80% on the final exam, and fulfill 50 hours of volunteer service. More details on qualifications, requirements, and steps to become a certified Penn State Master Gardener can be found on the Penn State Extension website.

For more information or to apply, please contact the Delaware County Master gardener Coordinator – Linda Barry – at lrb16@psu.edu or 610-690-2655.

“What I admire about the Master Gardener program is that it potentially unites people through an interest in gardening, while promoting timely sustainability and responsibility for the environment. “


“As a Master Gardener, I love sharing the joy of gardening with others and educating the Delco community about research-based best horticulture practices and promoting respect for the environment.”


Second Saturday Classes for 2019

Join some Master Gardeners for fun garden themed projects or informative lectures – all for a very reasonable price.

Happy New Year!

We have a great line up of Second Saturday Classes for 2019. Join some Master Gardeners for fun garden themed projects or informative lectures – all for a very reasonable price.

All of the sessions take place on the second Saturday of each month from 10am till noon at the Education Center in Smedley Park in Springfield.

You can register by mailing in this form, or by calling the office at 610-690-7669. Register for any or all of the following sessions.

January 12     Birds in the Winter

Do you know the best ways to care for our feathered friends in the winter?  Find out what different varieties visit  your garden and what to feed them to keep them coming back for your enjoyment. Our speaker is the owner of a Wild Birds Unlimited store and will share his knowledge of our feathered friends.

Cost $10  Instructor: Ben Labovitz.

February 9   Pruning

Take the guesswork out of pruning your trees and shrubs. Learn how, when, and where to correctly prune trees and shrubs on your property. Ray Murphy a horticulturist at the Nemours Estate will share his knowledge of years of pruning.

Cost $10   Ray Murphy, Master Gardener and Professional Horticulturist

March 9    Vegetable Gardening

A baby Trumpet Squash

Expand your home vegetable gardening skills by growing your own fresh vegetables. Learn how to start your own seeds, how to plant and cultivate your vegetable plants for a healthy harvest.

Cost $10   Leslie Trimble, Master Gardener. You can register on line here.

April 13    The Spotted Lantern Fly

Spotted lanternfly on apple
Photo: Erica Smyers, Penn State

Learn the correct facts about the serious invasion of our new insect pest.  Find out how you can help and what are the best steps to controlling this new pest.  The Spotted Lantern Fly has been in our area for a few years but will probably be more of a nuisance this coming year.  Be involved and learn all you can do to help.

Cost:  Free to the public.   Instructor: Dr. Mark Boudreau Penn State Brandywine professor

May 11  Consumer Reports Workshop…..A Sustainable Diet

A healthy diet is better for the environment as well as you and therefore more sustainable. We will be provided tips on buying organic food and learn about comparison shopping between regular and organic food.  We will also do some taste testing and there will also be a give away.

Cost: Free, but limited to 30 people and you must register to attend.   Instructor: Linda Lawson,  Consumer Reports. You can register on-line here.

June 8    Bluebirds and build a Bluebird House

Learn all the facts about bluebirds (courtship, nest building, egg laying, hatching, feeding and more). We will also build a bluebird house. Please bring a portable drill with a Phillips drive.

Cost $20  Instructor: Ken Leister Limited to 15 participants. You can register on-line here.

July 13   Stencil Workshop

Create a garden themed slate hanging decoration using stencils and acrylic paint.  Feel free to bring your own favorite stencil or choose from our array of stencils  Take home and hang the same day.  Supplies included

Cost $15 Instructor: Gerri Eunson, Master Gardener    Limited to 15 participants

August 10     History of Colonial Medicines

Come hear about the history of our medicines from the Colonial Period.”Dr. Mom Colonial Style” to be exact.  Clarissa Dillon will discuss all of the original plant based medicines and some that weren’t plant based, as well as concoctions, tinctures and will also give examples of distilled and infused meds.  She will have many examples to view and find out how they were made.

Cost $10 Instructor: Clarissa Dillon, PhD Garden Historian

September 14   Tool Sharpening

Participants will learn simple sharpening techniques suitable for a variety of gardening tools, using a sharpening stone.  Each participant will receive a sharpening stone and illustrated instructions. Bring gloves, 2 dull gardening tools, safety goggles or glasses and a pencil or pen.

Cost $20  Instructor: Liana Bauerle, Master Gardener.  Limited to 18 participants

October 12    Barred Owls

Barred Owls are known for their call “Who cooks for who”. In this multi-media program you will learn about their secretive, unique, and very inquisitive ways.  Find out about their behaviors and the close encounter Pam had with them at a local park.

Cost $10   Instructor: Pam Dimeler, photographer, bird lover and naturalist

November 9   Origami

Join us for another fun workshop on the art of Japanese paper folding.  We will be making a holiday tree centerpiece, as well as a gift box that can be kept or given as a great holiday surprise.            

Cost $10   Instructor  Jesse Crew:  Master Gardener. Limited to 15 participants

Greens and Gifts Event

Deck your halls With fresh, fragrant greens!


The Delaware County Master Gardeners will be offering handcrafted, fresh-cut evergreen wreaths and holiday floral creations on Saturday, December 8 from 10 am to 2 pm at Smedley Park in Springfield.

Choose from an artful selection of gorgeous wreaths with assorted evergreens, berries, and natural accents; hanging baskets of greens; and mailbox swags.


Also available for sale are table arrangements with and without candles, bundles of mixed greens, and lots of other unique holiday creations to celebrate the season.


All of the items are handcrafted using fresh, natural greens and are priced well below market prices. Proceeds from the sale are used to support the Master Gardeners’ volunteer educational activities.


Pre-order for best selection

You can ensure your choice of greens with a pre-order. Simply print and submit this form with payment.

Orders will be accepted through December 3 for decorated wreaths, table arrangements, and hanging baskets. Your pre-ordered greens and gifts can be picked up on Saturday, December 8, starting at 10:00 am. Special arrangements can be made for pick-up on Friday, December 7, from noon to 3 pm.

Don’t forget the gifts!

Stop by Smedley Park on Greens and Gifts Saturday and browse the array of crafts, gifts and stocking-stuffers made by Master Gardeners. We hope to see you there!


Want to see more samples?

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