You can sow again but often you can never get the time, energy or seeds back for that season, so I thought I’d share my seven secrets of successful seed growing.
These seven secrets are principles if you like, rather than universal rules. You may be reading this from another part of the world, other weather, other soil, other seeds, so these seven secrets can be applied to your situation and your seed germination.
Over time, these principles are the secrets that I have discovered the hard way and they really do make all the different to success for seed germination:
1. Quality of your seeds
Fresh mature seeds is one of the key secret to seed germination. Find a good quality seed company and buy this season’s seeds if you can rather than from sales of last year’s seed. That said, as long as you store the seeds well, more on that below, you can buy and reuse. Some seeds are always best freshly sown and I grow and leave the flowers to set seed on those.
Orlaya is a classic example. If you don’t have fresh orlaya seed, then the likelihood is you’ll not germinate them well.
2. Soil & containers
We’ve been peat free for a few years now but I can understand why there’s a struggle to let go of using this for germinating seeds. I got to the point though of feeling less than comfortable about what buying peat was doing to natural peat bogs. I think once you have that in your head, then change is easier, even if it is a bit harder initially, and needs a bit of sorting out.
Sieved soil is air light and has the very needed gentle structure that allows roots to easily grow and shoots to break the surface with ease. Heavy solid water laden blocks are going to be a bit hard work for your newly emerging seeds. Put yourself into the position of being a seed. Unfurling on a soft cushion of most friable soil is going to be a much better prospect than the opposite.
I use old trays that other plants have been grown in, and am just experimenting with soil blocks. One pot of seedlings will give you an awful lots of plants to pot up so often sow only some of the packet of seeds to have more than enough plants. This secret is a good way to have another opportunity, as if you are unsuccessful with your first sowing, then you have another chance.
3. Growing conditions
Light is a critical secret success factor. I have never ever managed to grow things successfully on a window sill, even on a south facing single glazed window. Invest in some growing lights.
Bottom heat is another secret to successful germination. All of these conditions essentially mimic nature’s conditions in the spring, when the soil is warming and the sun provides greater and greater light. There’s no secret to mother nature’s success and I often find and pot up seedlings I have found outside that she has already germinated for me! Seed identification is key to avoiding cultivating weeds, unless that’s what you are after, which I sometimes am.
4. Research for special seed treatment conditions
Many know that delphinium, larkspur and mollucella often need cold pretreatment to mimic nature’s cold conditions before germination in the spring.
Others like calendula and nigella can be sown outside as long as your slimy friends aren’t too numerous. Often, enthusiastic chomping by snails rather than non germination is the reason for seeds not failing to germinate but being eaten before you even see they’re up!
Knowing your soil is a key success factor too. On heavy clay, the soil often takes more time to warm, and is harder to create the ideal germinations than on loam.
5. Seed growing watering
Of everything, watering your seeds is the most tricky and challenging to achieve the perfection that mother nature manages. Too wet and all your seeds will rot. Too dry and they will fail to break free from their seed coats.
Just right is what you need, and with tiny dust like seeds, a gentle misting rather than a deluge that sees them washed off the surface is the thing. Always use damp compost and pre wet your compost from below. Do this before placing your seeds on top rather than displace them by watering from above.
6. Seed Growing Timing
There’s probably only one month of the season where I would not advise to sow seeds and that’s mid Winter – January for me here in the UK. The rest of the year you can be sowing different types of seeds that suit the season.
Early autumn is the perfect time to sow sweet peas as they’re quite a hardy lot. In fact, you can sow all your hardy annuals in autumn. That way, by the time spring arrives and you’re thinking about germinating other seeds, you’ll already have some lovely plants with good root systems to start you for the year.
Summer is a good moment for sowing biennials and perrenials.
The other reason is entirely practical. If you start all your seeds at the same time, then frankly, there’s just too many to manage at roughly the same moment, whereas a staggered approach not only provides you with the holy grail of successional flower availability but also lets you keep you sanity and gives your seeds the best chance. Letting them get checked in their pots is the worst thing as they never quite recover.
Some seeds like cress germinate overnight while others do have a think about it. There may be many reasons for slower germination but I write this as a secret as I am wonderfully impatient and start to investigate the pot and therefore disturb the often perfectly good conditions you haver already set up for germination. A watched kettle never boils and so it is with a watched seed. Often you move the tray in disappointment only to discover a few weeks later the soil is covered with new growth. Ironic I know but this is not always the case. That’s why keeping the seeds in their ideal conditions, as above remains the best opportunity for seeing your seeds grow.
Growing is a great sustainable thing to do, as well as being the most economical way to produce large quantities of plants that don’t cost a fortune. Investing in equipment that creates the ideal conditions for seed germination needn’t be prohibitive when you consider the cost to purchase plants.
Ideally store your seeds in a fridge in a sealed container or if not a fridge, somewhere cool and out of the light. The optimum storage condititons are the opposite for getting your seeds germinating, i.e. keep them dry, away from water and light and warmth, and remember to label your own packets of seeds, she says to remind herself!
There is though nothing like the fierce joy of that creative act of planting a garden with plants that you have nurtured and grown from seed.
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