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This time of year finds me pawing through seed racks and wishing spring was here. I’ve already pulled my favorite varieties of seeds, as well as a few new varieties I want to try. So now I’m ready to sit down with the seed packets.
The seed packet is the single best source of information on how to successfully grow this variety. So what to look for on the seed packet?
If you’re looking for organic seed, you should find the word “Organic” clearly marked on the front of the packet. If you’re looking for flowers that will tolerate some shade, the seed packet should tell you that. The seed packet will tell you how deep to plant the seed, how far apart, even how long it takes the seed to sprout.
If you need to know whether or not you need to start the seed indoors, the packet will tell you. There are seed varieties that have a long growing season and are recommended to be started indoors—ornamentals like impatiens, coleus, and columbines, as well as long-season vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. The seed packet will tell you how many weeks before the last frost date to start (by the way, because we’ve had frosts here in late April, I count back from May 1, to be safe.)
When it comes to starting seeds indoors, there is a vast array of options to choose from. There are trays with individual cells for each seed that even come with their own greenhouse lid. There are pots made of compressed peat which means that later you can plant the pot and all in the ground. There are little pellets of compressed peat that expand when soaked in water to make little planters. All of these are easy and convenient.
You can always start seeds in leftover plastic pots or trays you already have. If you do that, wash them thoroughly first. When starting seeds in containers—whether pots, plastic cells or peat pots—use a special seed-starter soil mix. A seed starter soil is sterile, finely milled, and moisture retentive.
Most seeds germinate faster with bottom heat. There are a few exceptions—the back of the seed packet will tell you.
You can buy special seed-starting heat mats that generate a constant low heat. I have sometimes set a tray of just planted seeds on the warm spot on top of the refrigerator at night and move them back to the sunny window in the morning. Once the seeds have sprouted, discontinue the bottom heat.
Almost all seedlings need light to perform well—the more light, the better. Even shade-tolerant plants like impatiens can take some sun in the seedling stage—starting indoors in February or March, the days are shorter than summer days and the sunlight is weaker.
If you lack a window that gets at least five to six hours of direct sun, consider artificial lighting. Plant lights need to be on 16 hours a day and should be about 18 to 20 inches away from the plants.
Some seeds don’t need to be started indoors. Beans, peas, cucumbers, squash, and melons sprout quickly and grow fast so should be direct sowed in the garden. Root vegetables like carrots, beets, turnips, and radishes do not transplant well, so should also be direct sowed. When in doubt, consult the back of the seed package.
I’ll be starting some of my seeds this coming weekend. It’ll be nice to think Spring, for a change. I’ve got my trays left from last year and a new supply of peat pellets; I’ve already selected my favorite varieties (as well as a couple of new ones) and I’m ready to go.
Stop by the GBGH to get the best selection of seeds or to ask any questions so you can start growing seeds like a pro!