Growing from seed is the ideal way to start a new crop, and you can save money and time by doing it yourself. But there are some things you should know before planting seeds.
Read every packet of seeds carefully before you sow them to learn about their specific germination requirements. Some will require soaking, scarification or stratification to make them ready for planting.
1. Choose the Right Seeds
Choosing the right seeds is one of the first steps in starting your own garden. It’s a fun and satisfying challenge, plus it’s the least expensive way to start your own plants.
When purchasing seeds, choose the type that will suit your specific climate and growing season. “Also, don’t forget to check the seed age and germination rate,” says Rachel Sears, assistant professor of plant science at Ferry-Morse College in Connecticut.
Typically, seed companies offer a variety of seeds, including organic, heirloom, hybrid, and other types. Some also offer collections and mixes, which are ideal for the home gardener.
2. Keep Seeds Moisturized
A seed’s outer coat needs moisture to germinate. If the seed’s environment is too dry, it may rot or disintegrate.
Watering your seed tray or pot should be consistent and frequent so the soil remains moist but not too wet. Avoid heavy-handed watering that could cause rot or dislodge seeds.
Some seeds have a thick seed coat that is tough to penetrate. To help break open the hard seed shell, gardeners can use a technique called scarification before soaking.
Before planting outdoors in the fall, some seeds will benefit from a hot water treatment to stimulate germination. Alternatively, cool-season seeds can be stratified before planting. This is a process where the seed is chilled in order to simulate a cold period before they “break dormancy.” Moist Stratification is also an option for flower and legume seeds.
3. Keep Seeds Lightly Watered
When growing from seed, it’s important to water the seeds thoroughly but not too often. Overwatering can lead to seeds washing away or being driven too deep into the soil, which can discourage germination.
Keeping the medium moist but not wet can also discourage the growth of mold, fungi or rot. This can happen when seeds are sown too shallow or are not planted at the correct depth as instructed on the packet, or if they are left out of the sun and/or heat.
Most seeds need temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit to germinate. A heating pad designed for plant use placed directly under a container can help, as can the top of a refrigerator or other warm spot.
4. Keep Seeds Fertilized
When growing seeds from the vegetable or flower garden, you’ll need to keep them fertilized. You don’t need to add fertilizer when they’re germinating, but it’s a good idea to do so once they sprout their first true leaves.
Many seeds take a long time to germinate because their outer shells are resistant to water and oxygen, two essential nutrients for growth. Scratching them with a fine-grit sandpaper or a metal file before sowing will make their shells more porous and help the seed ‘wake up’ faster.
Some seeds, especially those from plants native to temperate regions that see mild winters (strawberries, primrose, wild geraniums) need prolonged exposure to cold and heat, a process called stratification. You can simulate this by storing the seeds in the fridge before sowing them.
5. Keep Seeds Healthy
When seeds are well cared for, they can remain viable for many years. This is especially true for vegetables, fruit, and flowers that you save from your own garden.
Seeds also become more adapted to your climate and growing conditions every time you raise them. This means they’ll be healthier and more productive.
To make sure your seeds are healthy, keep them out of direct sunlight. You can do this by storing them in a dry, cool place such as your refrigerator or root cellar.