How to start plants from seed

By Jennie Hagen January 11, 2012 11:12 pm
There are three things we need to provide when starting plants from seed to ensure optimal germination and growth. A deficiency in any of these areas tends toward less than desirable results or success.

These three are, of course, light, heat and water. All seeds grown under artificial conditions need us to simulate as closely as possible each one’s specific pattern of growth as if they were spontaneously planted in a natural habitat.

Your greatest ally in determining plant specifics is most often the seed packet itself or a catalog. For instance, most seeds do not require light to germinate. When applying the darkness rule to larger seeded varieties, such as beans, squash or corn, as a general rule, you would plant the seed three times the depth of its size at the widest point, or about two inches for a bean seed. It is usually better to plant a seed too deep rather than too shallow, at least for larger seeded varieties.

Many small-seeded varieties, especially flowers, can require light for germination. This simply means that you sow the little seeds on top of the soil and don’t cover them with anything, not even lightweight vermiculite. And so you will think, but these will dry out too quickly. And yes, they will. You must prevent this from happening, especially after they have begun to germinate. A clear plastic bag or light glass placed over the top will keep the humidity high and will usually prevent drying. Little seeds must also never be watered from the top. They will simply get splashed around and will resent your heavy-handedness.  A hand-misting device will suffice at first but once they begin to put roots down you will need to water from the bottom.

Hardy vegetables, such as broccoli and tomatoes, might say on the seed packet “60 days.” This does not mean that from the time you plant the seed that two months later you will have a tomato. The days-to- maturity for vegetables is most frequently from the day they are planted out, after they have been started inside and are large enough to survive in the out of doors, anywhere from four to eight weeks.

So to start seeds successfully you can see that knowledge is your ally. January is usually the month when commercial nurseries start flowering plants such as lobelia and petunias. They rely on blossoms attracting customers during the heavy sales months of April and May. So if your seed packet says “days to maturity” are 45, for a flowering annual, you can count on being able to plant your seedlings outside in about a month from when you started the seeds and hopefully you will be enjoying flowers in only a few weeks. This is always, of course, depending on our fickle weather.

If a seed packet or catalog states “resents transplanting” that certainly does not mean that you can’t start the seeds indoors and plant them out later. It simply means that you must start the seeds in a pot that can go directly into the ground thereby preventing root disturbance. Tender-rooted plants such as squash or beans do well when started indoors in coir (my preference) or peats pots. Coir, the by-product of coconut harvesting, is totally sustainable, very affordable, and becoming widely used and available to home gardeners. It is also a perfect medium for seed starting mixes, has more available nutrients than peat, retains water better and doesn’t get slivers in your skin.

Until next time, enjoy planning this year’s harvest. Don’t forget to get your children involved. Set aside a small patch of garden for them to grow their own flowers or vegetables. It’s easy, fun and affordable.

Jennie can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it