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Handy gardeners start with seeds

February 15, 2014

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Attractive and enthralling seed packets promise gardening success in 60-120 days. Flowers, vines, veggies and herbs grow and mature in the blink of an eye. What fun!

While a few plants, such as sunflowers, are famously easy to grow from seed, the reality of starting plants from seeds is more complicated than seed packets indicate, especially if started indoors. Many plants have specific needs that must be met. For example, vegetables have particular germination requirements, such as soil temperature.

Planting seeds is an act of faith, a belief that what the seed packets promise will actually happen. If you have little tolerance for failure, stick to tried and true performers, such as easy-to-grow cosmos, morning glory vine, cypress vine, mint or dill. Otherwise, adhere to the following tips for better seed germination and growth:

The best temperature for starting seeds varies with the species planted, but generally 70-75 degrees is a good range. Each species has a minimum and a maximum temperature for germination as well as an optimum temperature for fast germination. For example, tomato seeds germinate with temperatures between 50 and 95 degrees, but the optimum is 80 degrees. A warming mat beneath seed starter trays will help to boost germination in cool spaces. Check seed packets for specifics.

Some seeds have hard seed coats that must be scarified before planting. Nick the seed coat with a file or sandpaper or soak them in a solution designed for this purpose.

Most seeds germinate best when planted in a loose, slightly moist growing medium. Common garden soil contains too many disease organisms, so select a sterile mix, such as one that consists of equal parts peat moss and vermiculite or perlite.

Plant seeds at a depth recommended on their packet. As a general rule of thumb, plant seed at a depth equal to 2-3 times the seed’s width. Seeds such as purple coneflower and cosmos need more light to germinate. Simply scatter these seeds atop the growing medium and gently pressed to ensure contact. Other plants are grown from small seeds that should be pressed gently into the soil and then covered with a very thin layer of soil.

Wet the growing medium before planting. After planting, gently mist the soil rather than using a watering can, faucet or hose. Forcefully applied water can scatter the seed. Alternately, seed trays may be placed in large water-filled trays and allowed to wick moisture from below. Remove the starter trays after a few minutes of soaking and let them drain. Another way to keep seeds moist is to use a starter kit with a plastic cover or seal seed trays in large plastic bags. (Do not allow the plastic to touch the soil surface.) The result is a sterile, moist chamber for seed starting.

Seedlings need bright light to grow. Place trays in a brightly lit window or beneath fluorescent grow lights. Seeds do not require fertilizer until they sprout. Once seedlings sprout, remove the plastic covers.

For answers to your horticulture questions, please call the Texas AgriLife Extension, Hood County at 817-579-3280 and ask to speak to a Master Gardener or visit the website at hoodcountymastergardeners.org.

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Category: Horticulture Archived