Starting With Seeds
Want to really begin your gardening experience from the ground up? Then you might want to start with seeds.
If that sounds like a challenge you’d like to take on, you have some decisions to make from the very beginning. Namely, what do I want to grow? Flowers? Vegetables? Herbs? Fortunately, whatever you decide, you’re probably going to purchase seeds that are commercially-produced, so that’s a leg up.
Commercially-produced garden seeds typically are packaged with valuable information to make your garden a success. After all, you won’t buy more seeds next year if they don’t take this year. Consequently, these packages will tell you when to sow your seeds, whether they require full sun or partial shade, the ideal temperature for germination, when and how to space the seedlings, and how large the plants are likely to grow at maturity. There’s plenty of information right there on the package.
So what else do you need to know?
You’ll need to decide whether you’re going to grow your seeds in a container, or in the ground. Again, the packages can help with advice. In either case, you need good well-drained soil, water and sunlight if you want your seeds and seedlings to sprout and thrive.
If you’re planting in the garden, you want to make sure your soil is suitable for what you want to grow. If you don’t know what type of soil you have, take a sample to your garden center or nursery for analysis or purchase your own test kit. You can choose the proper fertilizer once you know if it is acidic, sandy, or clay-based.
A major advantage to growing seeds in a container is that you control the soil or growing mixture. A good potting soil mix is recommended over soil from your garden. A mix of potting soil with peat, perlite or vermiculite holds moisture longer and will drain well.
Spring is usually the time when we think about planting seeds. You could start earlier if you’re growing seeds indoors and have a bright window nearby or a suitable grow light. The seed packets will provide guidelines.
Planting the Seeds
Read the seed package for special instructions such as the need for pre-chilling or soaking before planting. Sprinkle small seeds on top of the potting mix. Larger seeds can be planted individually.
Place at least 3 seeds per container, since not all seeds will germinate and not all that do germinate will survive. Once you have placed the seeds in seed starting soil, cover them with a thin layer of soil and then water lightly. Cover the seeds with more dampened potting mix and gently firm. To determine how much potting mix should go on top of the seeds, check the package. In general, the smaller the seed, the less you need to cover them. Lightly sprinkle some water on top of the newly planted seeds.
To produce a beneficial greenhouse effect, you should cover germinating seeds loosely with some type of plastic to help hold in both heat and moisture. You can simply lay a sheet of plastic over the planting bed or container. If you’re planting seeds in trays or containers you can even place a whole container into a plastic bag. At this stage, they don’t need light, but will need air circulation or mold may appear. When the first signs of seedlings appear, remove the cover and place the seedlings in indirect light.
Remember, seedlings do require attention every day. Keep the soil moist, but well drained. As the seedling grows and develops leaves and heartiness, you can move it into direct sunlight.
Seedlings can remain in their original containers until you are ready to plant them in their permanent spots. Some gardeners like to move the seedlings into larger pots once the seedling has grown a couple of inches tall and several sets of leaves have developed. Called “potting up,” this practice gives the roots more room to develop.
In addition to seeds in packets, you can also purchase small terra cotta containers holding flower and herb seeds in viable growing media, special seed starting soil and seedlings packaged in containers.
Growing plants from seeds can be a rewarding experience. All it takes is a seed, good soil, a little water, some light, an investment of time and a modicum of patience. For more information, visit our How To section at Vegetable Gardening Resource Library.
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