Barbara Perry Lawton
I always can tell when the new year is approaching – that’s when the seed catalogs begin piling up in my mailbox. What a treat it is to graze in the colorful meadows of the catalogs. Ambitions to grow bigger and better gardens flutter in the hearts of those grown tired of gloom and cold days. Unreasonable desires for more, bigger, better, brighter plants inflame the winter-weary gardeners.
Why grow your plants from seeds? There are many answers, including those I’ve just described. Cost, of course, can be a major factor, but while it certainly costs far less to grow your garden plants from seeds, that is not the only reason. Buying seeds often is the only way to get rare, unusual or newly introduced plants. Further, no nursery or garden center could possibly stock the numbers of varieties of annuals, perennials, vegetables and herbs that are available through seed catalogs.
Basic Requirements for Growing Seeds
First of all, read the back of the seed package to find out what the seed producers recommend. That will give the needs for the seeds including whether they should be covered or not covered by the growing medium that you choose. Again, the back of the seed package should tell you how many weeks before the average last frost you should plant your seeds. Purchase flats and seed-growing medium at your local garden center. Buy seeds there as well or else order them through your favorite catalogs.
You probably should buy a heating mat to place the seed flats on – most seeds germinate and grow better with bottom heat. If you don’t have bright sunny windows, you may wish to buy fluorescent bulbs to provide extra light. Garden center experts should be able to help you in that department, too.
Keep the seed flats moist but not soaking wet. A clear plastic cover tented over each flat will help keep medium moisture even.
When to Plant in Pots
When the seedlings first grow, they have a pair of so-called seed leaves. Once two pairs of regular or true leaves have grown you can transplant the seedlings into two-inch or four-inch pots where they can grow until you can plant them outdoors. Use a sterile growing medium for the pots.
You may want just one seedling to a pot or several, depending on the mature size of the plants and the way you will use them in your garden. Parsley, for instance, is best planted in clumps in the pots while zinnias and marigolds may be planted as single seedlings or certainly no more than two or three in each pot.
When to Transplant to Your Garden
When the soil has warmed and all danger of frost is past, you can plant your vegetable and flower seedlings out into garden beds. At this time, you can also plant seeds directly into the garden. You can grow many plants, such as leaf lettuce, radishes and carrots successfully by planting directly into the garden. They also can make attractive borders for mixed gardens.
Try to plan your planting outdoors on a cloudy day so that seedlings have a chance to gradually get used to direct sun and outdoor conditions. That, of course, is not as necessary when you’re dealing with shade-loving plants.
Take the Challenge
If you’ve never tried growing your garden plants from seeds, plan to take the challenge this year. It’s fun. It’s rewarding. And you will develop your confidence as well as your own special ways for handling seeds and seedlings.
Barbara Perry Lawton is a writer, author, speaker and photographer. She has served as manager of publications for Missouri Botanical Garden and as weekly garden columnist for the St Louis Post-Dispatch. The author of a number of gardening and natural history books, and contributor to many periodicals, she has earned regional and national honors for her writing and photography. Barbara is also a Master Gardener and volunteers at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St Louis MO.