Starting from Seed – A Guaranteed Approach to Successful Germination
It’s that time of year again. Spring is in the air. And once again, all the home improvement stores and local nurseries have begun stocking their greenhouses with plants for our consumption. However, for various reasons, more and more people are seeking to create their own transplants from seed. This article outlines a proven technique for successfully generating your own seedlings at home, for a fraction of the price of purchasing them from somebody else.
There are several options available for seed starting containers. The quantity of a specific variety you wish to grow will dictate the size of the container that should be used. If only a few plants are desired, a common six-cell container is a good choice. If a greater number of plants are desired, a more open container, that allows room for multiple rows of seeds, is more practical (such as the carrier tray that packs of six-cell containers usually come in).
If the preceding forms of containers are not available to you, don’t worry. Just look around your home and I’m certain that you will find many items that can be used for starting seeds. That empty plastic milk carton or coffee container in the recycling bin work great. Simply cut the bottom down to about a three inch depth and you’re ready to roll. Old plastic food storage containers also work great; just be sure to wash them out first.
No matter what you choose as a container for starting seeds, ensuring adequate drainage is a must. Be sure to poke a few small holes in the bottom of the container for this purpose. Also, the container should be fairly shallow. Since we are only starting the seeds in them, we don’t need much soil, and don’t want to use more than we really need to. Once the seeds become seedlings, they will be transferred to a larger container or planted directly in the ground.
There are many outstanding soil recipes out there, but keep it simple for starting seeds. At this stage, the focus should be on getting the seeds to germinate, not to provide the nutrients that the plant will eventually need to blossom and thrive. I like to use straight up peat moss, but feel free to experiment with other growing media to find what works best for you.
No matter what soil you choose, the key ingredient for getting the seeds to germinate will be the vermiculite. Vermiculite is a loose growing media that many gardeners use to help improve airflow to roots. It also has good moisture retention, which will help provide the seeds with the moisture needed for germination.
Fill the container being used with the soil that you’ve chosen, being sure to leave at least one half inch between the top of the soil and the lip of the container. You will now need a thin tool for creating the seed bed. I like to use the end of a trowel turned sideways, but a pencil, stick, or similar object will work just as well.
Insert your tool into the soil at one end of the container and drag it to the other end, creating a trench about one inch deep.
Repeat this process for the number of rows needed, or for the maximum number of rows that the container will accommodate. Be sure to leave an inch or two between rows so that the seedling roots don’t strangle each other.
Once you have your seed bed rows ready, fill them with vermiculite until they are flush with the surface of the soil. Use a cup, can, or trowel to sprinkle the vermiculite into the trench.
Once the trenches are filled with vermiculite, it’s time to sow your seeds. Place seeds along the center of the vermiculite, about one to two inches apart from each other. Use your finger to gently press the seed into the vermiculite about a quarter of an inch, leaving a slight divot in the surface.
Once all the rows are seeded, it’s time to apply a final layer of vermiculite. Using the same technique that was applied to fill the trenches, apply a thin coat of vermiculite over the entire surface of the container. Be sure to clearly label each container with the variety of seed that it contains, as there will be no way of differentiating species by just visually examining them at this point.
If using smaller containers, such as the six-cell variety or an empty plastic container, use your tool to create one inch deep holes instead of trenches. Then fill the holes with vermiculite, the same way that you would for trenches in a larger container, and apply a thin coat on the surface. To get the most efficiency from a smaller container, place two to three holes per cell (or an equivalent spacing, as the container allows). Then, thin seedlings out as needed.
Watering / Misting
When getting seeds to germinate, you need to keep the growing media moist, but not too wet. This may sound tricky, but it’s actually pretty simple. Don’t use watering cans or open-ended hoses, as this may over saturate the growing media. The best applicators to use for watering the seeds is either a spray bottle (configured like more of a mist than a stream), or a hose nozzle with a mist setting.
Once or twice a day, mist over the container. Continue misting until the vermiculite takes a second to absorb water that has started to puddle on the surface. Again, the idea here is to keep the media moist, not completely saturated.
It’s important to keep the seeds in a warm location, such as in a windowsill that gets decent sunlight, or on an enclosed patio. If you are germinating your seeds indoors, using a special heating pad for seeds or a heat lamp works great. If you have a greenhouse available, or have the ambition and knowhow to make one, then outdoors can be a good place to start your seeds. I use both indoor and outdoor environments for starting seeds, depending on the environment each species calls for. This information can usually be found on the back of the seed packet. If not, check online for germination temperatures.
In one to three weeks, or possibly longer (depending on the specific seeds you are germinating), you will have a batch of healthy seedlings. It’s normal to thin out the seedlings at an early stage, but you should hold off on transplanting the keepers until there are about four to six true leaves present.
Following the process outlined above, you should have no problem creating a healthy crop of plants that you started on your own from seed. Not only will it be much more rewarding knowing that you started your own plants from seed, but you will save a decent sum of money as well.