by Charlene Burgi
Starting plants from a packet of seed can be rewarding if not miraculous. Have you ever considered the transformation a tiny seed takes when placed in the rich earth? Or marveled about a seed growing into a magnificent plant that rewards us with beautiful blooms and fruit?
The fact is, very little is required for most seeds to take that journey. Good lighting, warm temperatures, moisture and good soil will find seeds bursting from their protective covering. Usually the tinier the seed, the less soil is needed to “set” the seed, as found with our state flower, the California poppy.
Some types of plant seeds need more warmth and light to coax them into this world. Other seed coats (yes, that is the official name) are so thick that it takes additional help to mimic nature. This process is known as stratification, in which you either:
- Soak the seeds in water;
- Refrigerate the seeds;
- Nick the seed coat;
- Or some combination of the above.
This is a common practice when growing many of our plants from seed. While doing some research on stratification, I found a great website that may interest you and provide more detail on the requirements of different types of seeds.
When sowing seeds, remember the soil needs to be light and airy. I find seed starter mix the easiest to use for germination. The porous growing medium stays moist enough to support seeds but prevents them from rotting. And its light texture is well-suited for delicate baby roots.
Keep the newly planted seeds warm. If you are sowing seeds directly outdoors, be certain the soil temperature reaches at least 65 degrees. This can be a challenge when experiencing cold, wet spring weather. If this cool weather continues, look for a warm, sunny window in the house that will provide the perfect setting for starting seeds.
After planting the seeds, water thoroughly, then cover the planted seeds with clear plastic wrap. The wrap will function as a mini greenhouse by allowing sunlight in and keeping the soil moist by trapping condensation. (Remember to remove that cover when the seeds emerge.) You can also purchase a device similar to a heating pad. These “bottom heat” pads are designed specifically for seed germination and maintain a constant temperature conducive to germinating seed.
Once the seedlings emerge, check that there is enough room for them to grow. If too many seedlings are growing within the same cell, snip out all but the strongest seedling, or gently pull the weaker ones free and try to replant where they will not crowd out other seedlings. Keep the seedlings in strong indirect light and protected indoors until they grow the second set of true leaves. (The first set of leaves contain the nutrients to keep the plant alive.)
Once the weather warms up, move the seedlings outdoors. Place them in a cold frame to “harden” them off. If you don’t have a cold frame, put the seedlings in a spot protected from wind and harsh weather conditions for a week before transplanting into the well-prepared soil. If the plants are still small, cut the bottom off a plastic gallon milk jug, place it over the plant, and firmly push the jug into the ground. Remove the lid so air can circulate in the growing area. The jug can be removed when the plant is stronger and able to support itself.
I had two gardeners ask about gopher control. Does anyone have a sure way of controlling these critters? Please share your secrets!