Seed Starting Success!

I have learned that if you give a seed exactly what it needs, you will succeed! (I know that was a particularly dopey groaner—but I just couldn’t resist.)

What do seeds want?

1.       The right amount of preparation (soaking, breaking the seed coat, cold, heat, etc.)

2.       The right starter mix (sandy, soilless, sterile, acidic, sweet, etc.)

3.       The right starter mix temperature (chilly, room temperature, warm, warm during the day and cool at night)

4.       The right amount of moisture (wet to slightly damp)

5.       The right amount of light during germination (no light or must have light)

I know that this sounds endlessly complicated—but it really isn’t.

The most common vegetable and flower plants that you would start from seed have all the info you need on the seed packet. If you plant at a certain time of the year in your growing zone, all the conditions are met and you have success unless something unusual happens (like too much rain rotting the seed or a dog digging up your freshly planted garden).

If you are starting transplants in the house, you have to meet these needs. The needs of the most common vegetables home gardeners grow are pretty simple—no advanced prep of seed, moist sterile seed starter mix, and a warm dark place to germinate.

A good rule of thumb with planting seed is to cover with soil two times their thickness. If seed is really tiny like rosemary, lavender, or basil, I just drop it on top of the soil mix and press the mix down lightly. The fine seed falls into the tiny spaces in the soil just as it would happen naturally if the seed fell from the plant’s ripe seed pods outdoors.

If you want to grow some of the more unusual herbs, flowers, or vegetables from seed, you may need some more detailed information about the germination needs of the seed you are planting. What I most often find myself looking up is the soil temperature and light needs of the seeds I’m starting.

For example, celery seed likes a daytime soil temperature of 60-70°F but a nighttime temperature approximately 10° cooler! Tomatoes germinate best with a steady 80°F day and night. Impatiens, snapdragons, and columbines need light to germinate.

I find most of my information in some great reference books. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Park’s Success with SeedsGreat reference on starting common and uncommon plants from seed. The first section covers seed starting basics. Edibles and ornamental seeds are listed in separate sections. Latin names are used, but it has a great index with common names so it is no problem to find information. (If you get into growing different varieties of the same plant, the Latin is important.) The appendices have lots of useful lists.
  • Park’s Success with Herbs—A goldmine of information on growing herbs from seed. The information on herbs is more detailed than that in Park’s Success with Seeds.
  • The New Seed Starters Handbook—A Rodale publication by Nancy Bubel. It includes great sections on save seed saving as well. I like this book because of the detailed information she gives on all the needs of germinating seeds and their growing conditions.
  • Seed Sowing and Saving—A Storey publication by Carole B. Turner. Step-by-step techniques for collecting and growing more than 100 vegetables, flowers, and herbs. Every plant listed has seed facts, including soil temperature, germination time, spacing and thinning, planting depth, and seed storage requirements. There are also Master Gardening tips, and seed harvesting, indoor, and outdoor sowing directions. Excellent book. I paid full price for this book! No regrets.

Spring comes early when you start your own transplants! Begonia

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