Growing from Seed: What the Packets Don't Tell You


When I first started growing from seed I relied heavily on the advice given by seed packets. Some packets are better than others, but the vast majority give you only the most basic information, namely when and how deeply/far apart to sow.

Sometimes, it really is that easy – plop the seed into a pot of soil or into the ground, give it a good watering and wait for the magic to begin. Other times, however, things may not go according to plan – the seeds don’t germinate at all or they do, but then keel over and wither away for no apparent reason.

I’ve had my fair share of seedy misadventures over the years and have learned (often the hard way) that a few simple steps can make all the difference when it comes to seed starting success.

1. Start with squeaky clean equipment. I’m talking pots, trays, tools and even the plant tags that you use to identify what’s in that cell pack.This is the most important step that you can take to help prevent disease, especially damping off which is one scourge that can take you from seedling bliss to seedling despair in the blink of an eye. I usually do a mass cleaning of all my pots, cell packs, trays and tools at the end of the growing season so that they are ready to go come early spring.

Fall Pot Cleanup

2. Moisten the soil. Most bags of seed-starting mix are pre-moistened but if it’s been sitting around for a while chances are that it’s on the dry side.If you think you’ll just water after you sow those seeds, think again – most seed starting mixes are heavy on peat which is almost impossible to moisten by simply pouring water on top of it – all that water will simply run down the inside of the pot and end up in the saucer. In order to thoroughly moisten the soil mix, I pour it into a plastic tub, add some water (not too much), then stir and stir – a long handled stirring spoon or your hands work equally well.I repeat, adding a bit more water each time, until the mixture is just damp, but not soaking wet. To test if it’s moist enough, grab a handful and squeeze – it should hold together. Now poke it with your finger – if it falls apart easily, you are good to go. If it stays in a lump, then you added too much water - simply mix in a bit more soil to help soak up the excess.If you are using a terra cotta pot, give it a good soak (about 10 minutes or so) before filling with soil so that the porous clay doesn’t wick up the moisture in your soil. Lastly, it’s equally important to moisten the soil ahead of time if you are sowing directly into a garden bed, unless Mother Nature has done it for you.

3/24/2018 4:00:46 PM

Hi Nora - For seeds that require exposure to light, what I do is cover the pot or cell pack with cling film (saran wrap) and use a spray bottle to mist the top of the soil once or twice per day. Once you see some green coming up, you can remove the cling film but I continue to spray for another day or two, just to make sure the surface of the soil doesn't dry out while the seedlings are getting established.

3/17/2018 12:01:24 AM

Any thoughts on tiny seeds that need to be kept damp but in the light? Trying to jump this hurdle now.

3/9/2018 9:55:23 AM

Great advise! Will be reading this again and doing what has been advised. Thank you for all this information. Laurie.

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