By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener in Training
The season has begun! Canada Post has delivered seeds for this intrepid gardener to coax into cutting garden participants by providing the right conditions for survival and growth. In order to germinate, seeds need water, oxygen and warmth. Some like foxglove have additional requirements such as light. Once sown, seeds soak up water to soften their outer coat (“imbibition”) and then begin to metabolize stored food reserves. A seedling soon appears. At my house, seeds are germinated in a warm room and then moved to the sunroom where it is cooler and brighter. My growing set up consists of a metal cart (two main levels) with adjustable grow lights hanging above the bottom shelf. When space runs out on the cart, the tables in the sunroom are enlisted. To brush up on seed starting essentials check out the articles in the resources list.
Tips that have come in handy for me are highlighted below:
Online seed starting calculators. I wish I had known about this before I calculated all my dates this year! Based on your last frost date, the calculator gives you the date to sow your seeds as well as an approximate date for transplanting seedlings outside.
Sowing tiny seeds: Gadgets don’t work for me. This year I discovered pelleted foxglove seed and loved it. Not only does the pellet make it large enough to handle easily, it is coloured so you can see it on the soil. For non-pelleted tiny seeds, I use a moistened toothpick to pick the seed up from a dish and drop into the plug tray.
Vermiculite: Once seeds are sown, covering the tops with vermiculite prevents the formation of a hard crust. Tiny seeds such as snapdragons and foxglove get barely covered with a fine dusting.
Cold Germinators: These are hard to start seeds like dara and bupleurum. Some annual varieties fall into this category. Put these seeds into the freezer to stratify for a few weeks. Try to not to forget where you put them.
Consistent Warm Temperature: Most plants will germinate around 70F. Bottom heat from a propagation mat can provide faster and more even germination.
Bottom Watering: Using plug trays or cell packs in trays allows you to water from the bottom. Water wicks up from below reducing incidence of fungal disease and preventing tiny seeds from washing away. Option 2 – use a turkey baster to water small seedlings. Time consuming but precise.
Supplemental Lighting: Seedlings need 14-16 hours of good light to develop strong, stalky stems. Even in the brightest room, the daylength is too short early in the season (February/March).
Succession Planting: This involves sowing in batches, successively, every few weeks. This spreads out the flowering window and provides blooms over the season.
“It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become”
Dr. Seuss, The Lorax