Some seeds are easier to grow than others. It is important to follow all planting recommendations on the back and inside of the packet. Below are some tips to ensure you get the best germination of your Botanical Interests seeds.
- Keep moisture consistent – Keep soil damp, and cover with clear plastic or a clear tray until seedlings appear. After the seeds are sown and begin to absorb water, even a short dry period can be detrimental.
- Sow at the correct depth – The seed depth measurement listed on the back of the packet is really important! Some seeds need a generous 1″ of soil covering them in order to germinate. Others shouldn’t be covered at all and should only be lightly pressed into the soil. For these, light must reach them to spark germination. It’s also possible to plant too shallow. Some seeds germinate best when they are well covered and in darkness. Generally, the smaller the seed, the more shallow it must be planted.
- Prevent pathogens – Every gardener will eventually be hit with ‘damping-off’ fungus. Seeds will rot in the soil and not germinate, or they will sprout thin, spindly stems, then simply fall over and die. This disease can spread rapidly and wipe out an entire flat in a short time. The first step in preventing this unfortunate situation is to use clean pots and trays for planting. If you are re-using containers, be sure to wash them well, then sanitize with a 10% bleach solution (9 parts water, 1 part bleach). Never use garden soil from your yard to start seeds indoors. It will likely contain fungal spores. The best option is sterile seed starting mix from your local garden center. If you mix your own, some gardeners like to sterilize their soil in the oven at 180-200 degrees F for 30 minutes to kill off any of the fungus. If you try this, be sure to put soil in a shallow flat or pot, no deeper than 4″ and keep covered tightly with aluminum foil while baking. Use a baking thermometer to gauge when soil reaches 180 degrees F, and do not over-bake. After sowing seeds, be careful to keep your soil moist but not soggy. If possible, water from below by pouring water into the liner tray or use a flat with a wicking mat. Indoors, air circulation is also an important tool in preventing fungus. Place a small fan near your flat and keep it blowing on “low” during the day. Point it near the flat, but not blowing directly on it where it could dry out the soil quickly. Finally, if you have sown a lot of seeds in a small amount of space, be “brutal” and thin out the seedlings when too many germinate. Closely-packed, tiny stems provide the perfect environment for fungal growth.
- Light Requirements – Indoors, be sure to keep your fluorescent grow lights on for at least 16 hours a day. This is important as artificial light is not as strong as sunlight, and some seeds need good light exposure to germinate. Conversely, some seeds will only sprout in darkness (as noted on packet). Be sure to cover them to the recommended depth, and turn your grow light on as soon as you see seedlings.
- Temperature – Indoors, if your trays are close to a window, be sure to monitor them so they don’t bake in the heat and dry out, or get too cool. Some seeds require a specific temperature range for germination to occur. For example, pepper and tomatoes, although easy to grow in most settings, will do better with a heat mat underneath until they sprout. Conversely, sweet peas will germinate better in a cooler room that is only 55-65 degrees F.
- Hard Seed Coat – Some seeds have hard seed coats and require “scarification” for germination to occur(i.e. sweet peas and morning glories). In nature, their hard seed coat helps to keep them viable longer. The fluctuating weather conditions of winter and early spring help to break down this coat naturally. There are two easy methods of playing Mother Nature and “scarifying” them yourself. You can soak them for 24 hours or nick them with a file before sowing to weaken the seed coat. See packet instructions for varieties requiring this extra step.
- Stratification for Perennials – Some perennial seeds specifically require the fluctuating winter conditions of cold and moisture to germinate. You can often “trick” them into believing that they have gone through a winter by sowing them in pots with moist soil and placing them in the refrigerator for a few weeks. You may also have good luck by sowing them directly in the ground in the fall, so they can go through natural winter conditions outside. To do this, scatter them on the ground in the place you want them to grow. Follow recommended planting depth and then tamp them in firmly. An occasional watering in that area throughout the winter may be beneficial in dry climates. You may also try sowing them in containers outdoors. Even in cold climates, this can be quite effective. Try using large plastic pots filled with potting soil. Sow your seeds as noted on the packet, then cover with plastic and put them in a protected location. About once a month or more frequently during warmer periods of winter, give them a sprinkle with a watering can. Come spring, you may have a head start on your garden containers!