Do you scour your seed catalogs or look at all the new varieties that have come out in your gardening magazines? You can’t wait to go to your local greenhouse and purchase them for your garden or flower bed. But when you get there, you find they don’t carry that variety.

Why not start them yourself?

So how do you start? First, make a list of the varieties that look interesting to you. If you are a newbie at seed starting, try and pick some plants that would be easy to grow. There is no use getting discouraged with finicky plants your first time at it. Also, keep your list to a minimum. You don’t want to overload yourself in the beginning.

Purchase seeds early enough in the season so that you can give them a good start if they need extra time. If seed companies haven’t been sending you catalogs, then go on the internet and search for seed catalogs, and I’m sure you can find some sites that will be happy to send you a catalog.

Some plants need a long growing season, so you will need to start them early in the house if you live in the northern areas of the country. Vegetable plants like tomatoes and peppers or flowers such as impatiens and pansies.

What do you need if you are going to start your own seeds? Clean containers, good soil-less seed starting mix, fertilizer, warmth, and plenty of light. You can buy special containers, re-use some from plants you have purchased, or some type of container you have around the house. I use empty milk cartons plenty of times. You can also use the milk cartons for making labels, so you remember what seeds are in the container.

Do you happen to have some old seeds from past projects that were never used? See if they are still viable by pre-sprouting. Dampen paper towels, spread out the seeds, and put the folded towel in a bag. Place in a warm area and check every few days. If they haven’t sprouted in 10-14 days, I would give up and throw them out. You can also do this to speed up the germination of new seeds before you plant. Just handle it very carefully when planting, so you don’t damage the root. This is not good to do with very small seeds.

You are now ready to plant. If you are re-using cell packs or flats, wash first with a mild dish detergent and then dip in a mix of 1 part bleach to 9 parts hot water, let dry. In cell packs, place 2 seeds in each cell to be sure of getting at least one sprouted seed. If two sprouts, snip out the weaker of the two with scissors. Very fine seeds could be spread onto a flat filled to the brim for good airflow.

Start at the right time. If started too early, seedlings will get weak and spindly without good lighting. If you don’t have a wonderful sunny windowsill you will need a special grow light to be sure of good growth.

When it is time to put your plants in the ground, you will want to harden them off for a few days to prepare them for the outdoor environment. One way is to hold off on the water a little and also place them outside for just a few hours a day, increasing the time gradually. In a week they should be able to handle the outside world without transplant shock.

Do you have a little experience starting your own seeds? Maybe you want to try something a little more challenging. How about trees, shrubs, or wildflower seeds? Generally, these seeds need stratification to germinate. That is, they need to go through some cold and moist temperatures plus warmth to break dormancy. Some will want darkness and some light. You need to know the specifics of the plant you want to start.

To stratify your seeds try this method. Sow seeds in the moist soil-less mix in a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid or plastic wrap to hold the moisture and prevent spills. You don’t need a large amount of mix to get them to sprout. Place in the refrigerator for one week and then remove to let them warm up for a day or two. Place in the freezer for one week and then remove to let them warm up again. Alternate this method at least twice before keeping them in a warm environment to allow them to germinate.

If you have some really hard seeds, then you can try scarification by rubbing the seed with sandpaper or an emery board. You can also nick the seed with a knife but be sure not to damage the embryo.

Learning to start seeds can be fun and rewarding, but it can also be frustrating if you don’t take time to learn the basics before moving on to the harder to start varieties.

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