Sow Your Own

Start garden plants from seeds.

| January/February 2008

In this fast-paced world, many folks choose to create their gardens with young plants, rather than taking time to grow their own from seed. The upside to this approach is that you invest less time in the process; however, the downside is that your choices are limited to only the most popular garden varieties. If you find yourself dissatisfied with plant-store selections, or want to take advantage of the thousands of flower and vegetable varieties out there, then you will need to sow a little seed.

Technically, a seed is an embryo-containing, ripened plant ovule whose function is to ensure that the species can survive in future generations. To the gardener, these miraculous containers of life provide an economical means for diversifying gardens, and all it takes to get from seed to healthy adult plants is a little effort and forethought.

Timing is everything

Planning is important because developing plants need space, light, warmth and room for their roots to develop. With fluorescent lights and a heated room, it is possible to germinate lots of seed at any time of year. The challenge is to keep all those plants healthy, especially as the seedlings grow and become more demanding.

The longer plants stay in shallow flats or small pots, the more root-bound, stunted and generally unhealthy they become. For the sake of efficiency, seed should be planted so that the gardener has healthy, vigorous young plants when the last frost date has passed but before the plant has to be transplanted into a larger container more than once. Timing also must take into account the realities of your lifestyle and climatic conditions.

If you are new to growing plants from seed, annuals are the ones with which to experiment. Basil, coriander, dill, tomatoes, peppers and all the flowering annuals can be sown in the same manner. Anywhere from six to 100 seeds might come in a single seed packet, depending upon the plant. We often order seed with others and share packets– since most of us don’t need 50 habanero, cilantro or even tomato plants.

Ready, set, sow

Many crops can be sown directly in the ground. Cool season annuals like peas and spinach can be planted as soon as the soil is workable in the spring. Other warm-weather crops like sweet corn should be planted as soon after the last frost date for your area as possible. Seed is ideally sown into well-prepared soil with a fine texture and good drainage. Seed-soil contact is critical for good germination, so once you plant your seed at the spacing and depth specified on the packet, you should gently compress the soil.

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