The power of a seed goes almost unnoticed, most everyone wants to start some, but few succeed. The mystery and hope all packed in a little seed is perplexing but powerful. The most powerful part to me: it is a miracle every time one sprouts. Once you have done it and your first baby is born, you are in hook, line, and sinker. Nothing is more satisfying in gardening than starting from seed. Perhaps the most overwhelming moment of success I enjoy is gazing our working cutting gardens full of blooms and knowing we started them all from a tiny seed. Still unbelievable and amazing to me after 15 years.
Photo: Zinnias, Lemon Basil, Cockscomb and Celosia plumes, all started from seed.
This is the time of year when literally millions of folks are rushing to the garden to plant warm-season seeds with the hopes of a beautiful and abundant summer garden. I visualize our customers heading to the garden with our seeds in hand, they are ready and equip to cast seeds with the information they need to grow a great garden. Unfortunately many of the seeds sold out on the open retail market without a person to offer a few tips to succeed often never live to sprout and produce the abundance of a summer garden. With just a few tips anyone that wants to try a little can succeed.
So here are some pointers on getting seeds to sprout and grow into a healthy plant:
- Warm-season, tender seeds will sprout the quickest when the soil is warm. When the night temperatures climbs into the 60’s and stay—then plant the warm-season, tender seeds directly in the garden. If you plant into cool soil chances are good the seeds may rot before they can sprout. This nighttime temperature rise normally occurs a couple of weeks after your last frost date. However, this year is cooler than normal in the mid-Atlantic so we are looking at perhaps 4 weeks after our last frost date which was April 15.
- Plant more seeds than plants you need. This is hard to do, but just do it! Sowing more seeds, closer together than the final plants you need will help to ensure you will have a nice stand of plants.
- To cover the seed with soil or not? If the seed packet doesn’t give direction on this—Google “the seed name and sowing instructions”, this should provide the information. If a seed should be covered this means it needs darkness to sprout, we push ¼” of soil on top of the seed. If it should not be covered that means it needs light to sprout. Place the seed on the soil surface and firm in by pressing the seeds into the soil with your hand, no pushing soil on it.
- Keep the soil moist. For a seed to sprout the hull of the seed must become completely hydrated. The seed must compete with the surrounding soil for moisture which leads to another common seed sprouting failure—the seeds never get the needed continuous moisture. Plan to water the seed bed at least once daily until the seeds are sprouted and about 2” tall. Using a floating row cover over the seed bed immediately after planting and watering will greatly increase the percentage of the number of seeds that sprout. The cover protects the seed bed from the drying wind, maintains moisture, and will decrease the frequency you need to water the bed.
- Once your seeds have sprouted and grown to 3-6” tall it is time to thin to the recommended plant spacing. One of the hardest jobs to do is to pull out little plants to give adequate room to those left behind, but a necessary sacrifice that must be made for the good of the others. We feed our newborns an organic liquid meal once they are about 2” tall according to bottle instructions.
- Once your thinning is complete, mulch the bed and continue with the organic liquid fertilizer as directed and you will be off to a great summer garden!
Lisa Mason Ziegler is a commercial cut-flower farmer in Newport News, Virginia; she lectures and writes about organic and sustainable gardening. You can email Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org, call her at 757-877-7159 or visit her website www.shoptgw.com.