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Dig In: Petting is part of prepping seedlings for life outside

Dig In video series: Petting young plants preps them for life outdoors

Master Gardener Debbie Courson Smith demonstrates transplanting, thinning, petting and hardening off seedlings in this third installment of the Idaho Statesman's Dig In gardening video series.
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Master Gardener Debbie Courson Smith demonstrates transplanting, thinning, petting and hardening off seedlings in this third installment of the Idaho Statesman's Dig In gardening video series.

Is there anything better than finding that your seedlings have popped up in the soil, stretching their skinny necks toward the light?

Yes, there is.

But it’s still a pretty great feeling to see young plants sprout.

So now what? First, make sure they’re getting lots of light. Put them near a south-facing window, if you can. Keep the soil moist, watering every two to three days.

If you planted your seeds in small containers (cell flats) or pots, you might want to transplant them into bigger pots — once they have two “true” leaves, Master Gardener Debbie Courson Smith says. The true leaves are the ones that come after the initial pair.

In this week’s Dig In video, Debbie demonstrates how you can turn old party cups (got some old red Solo cups on the shelf?) into pots for your growing plants. She pokes holes in the bottom of the cups for drainage, fills them with moist potting soil and uses a nail polish bottle as a dibble to create a hole to drop the baby plant in.

Pro tip: Don’t yank the plants out of the plastic cell containers. Use a pencil to gently push them out from the bottom.

Sometimes you’ll find that two or more plants have sprouted in the same container. I hate to go all Hunger Games on you, but the pros like Debbie say all but one must die — thinning is important.

Master Gardener Debbie Courson Smith of Boise gives tips on getting garden plants started indoors without spending a lot of money. First in Idaho Statesman's ongoing gardening series Dig In. (Video by Katy Moeller)

Keep the hardiest one and use scissors to snip the others. Cut them off as close to the soil as possible. For those of you who are like me, this is tough. Why can’t they all live? This feels barbaric!

“Apologize if you feel it’s necessary,” Debbie says.

If you planted your seedlings recently, you can probably skip transplanting into bigger pots and just prep them to go into the ground.

Now, the fun part: the petting.

Spring weather can be brutal on baby plants, so you want to do everything you can to strengthen them before planting them outside. That includes petting them — just gently running your hands over them — a couple times a day.

Botantists have a term for the response that plants have to the touching that simulates wind, rain and critters: thigmomorphogensis. That’s a real word.

Petting the plants looks a little weird at first, but I think you’ll like it. It’s recommended.

Another part of the so-called hardening-off process is gradually acclimating the plants to the outdoors. Place them outside under a patio awning for 15 minutes (direct sunlight may be too much initially), and increase the time over about a week and a half.

This is Episode 2 of the weekly Statesman "Dig In" gardening video series. Master Gardener Debbie Courson Smith explains why it's a bad idea - even illegal - to plant a potato from your pantry. Also, basic planting tips.

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller

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