Shawna Coronado

Better Gardener: 4 Seed Starting Kits That Work For Your Garden

Seedling Starter Kits at 4 Weeks

Midsummer can be a challenging time for my front lawn ornamental edible vegetable garden (see below). It’s hot. It’s humid. It’s buggy. Plants react in different ways to the summer season depending on their issue; some thrive, others have giant bug holes in them, a few go to seed, and my personal Drama Queen favorite – the veggie sprawls on the ground like a dying opera singer. All these issues can be solved by growing replacement seedlings and replacing the old with the new. Grow seedlings at this time also to build your cold weather vegetables for Fall planting. This season I conducted an experiment to see how seed starting kits worked in the heat of midsummer and here are the results.

Shawna Coronado Front Lawn Vegetable Garden

Seedling kit watering

Growing Seedlings Experiment Conditions:

Each system was planted with Botanical Interests Dwarf Blue Curled Heirloom Kale. I used Organic Mechanics Seed Starting Blend as the starting soil for three of the kits. Once planted and watered the first time (above), I never watered any of the growing systems again. I kept the growing systems outside in semi-shade and did receive some rain throughout the testing. Results are after four weeks of growth from seed to plant. You can see the final growing result in the photo at the top of this post.

Seedling Kit SteadyGROWpro

SteadyGROWPro Seed Starting Kit

Eco-friendly SteadyGROWpro grow medium is used to grow seeds hydroponically, it’s a wonderful solution for producing seedlings for the garden without soil. With the SteadyGROWpro kit  (a smaller sample kit is shown above) I did not add additional organic fertilizer, so you can tell the plants stayed a bit smaller. However, it worked great for me. It is the least expensive of the four seed starting kits and by not growing with soil it saved even more money. A good solution for when you are interested in transplanting plants later or if you are keeping the seedlings in a hydroponic system. One kit of 24 seed spots retails for $8.99.

Seedling Peel Away kit

Peel-Away 4” Pot Kit

Need to transplant your plants? It is no problem with this Peel-Away 4” Pot Kit from Gardener’s Supply made from VELCRO® brand fabric (above). Removing plants without disturbing the roots and minimizing transplant shock is the goal with these 3 innovative pots. Building the containers is easy and each tray uses a reservoir and a wicking capillary mat to water the plants as they need it from the roots; it came with simple instructions. I really liked that you can wash pots and store flat for reuse next season. Comes in red or brown. One kit retails for $24.95.

Seedling Peel Away Kit assembled

Peel-Away 2” Pot Kit

Like it’s big brother kit above, this Peel-Away 2” Pot Kit from Gardener’s Supply made from VELCRO® brand fabric is an easy solution to transplant small seedlings without disturbing their roots. For some reason the seedlings grew better in the 4” fabric pots, rather than in these 2” pots (see top photo). There are 12 foldable growing pots that rest on a reservoir with a wicking capillary mat to water the plants as they need it from the bottom (above). Wash pots and store flat for reuse next season. Comes in red or brown. One kit retails for $24.95.

Seedling APS-24 Growing System

Gardener’s Supply APS-24 Growing System

This 24 seedling growing system (above) is an all-in-one unit that ensures a regular supply of water for the little seedlings. There is an insulated growing tray with greenhouse cover in case the temperatures drop. A capillary mat and reservoir lets seedlings drink water as needed. This system is best used for starting plants that will be transplanted while still small and I found it super-easy to use. Comes in white. One kit retails for $19.95.

Seedling Kits planted up

All the seed starting kits were successful (see top photo) and could easily start different types of plants dependent upon your needs. Whether you are growing your Fall cool-season seedlings or replacements for the front lawn vegetable garden, now is the time to get started on the second round of garden growing.

According the FTC, I need to let you know that I received products in this story at no cost in exchange for reviewing them.

James A. Baggett

Poppy Love

My friend Tovah Martin once told me that I should be sure to sow my poppy seeds (Papaver somniferum) on top of the last snow of the season right where you want them to grow. But each year I doubt my meteorological instincts. I figure any snowfall in March is fair game, so I’m glad I finally scattered the seeds I’d saved from my pretty purple poppies a couple of weeks ago. I purchased the original seeds some years back at VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, British Columbia, and had been saving them from year to year ever since.

Poppies will grow in any well-drained soil in full sun. Without fail, within a few weeks, here and there across my front-yard flowerbeds, will spring dozens of dainty gray-green seedlings. By early summer, I’ll have papery petals of soft lavender-purple with dark purple markings dancing throughout my garden. And those blossoms will mature into handsome dried seedheads that rattle like miniature botanical salt shakers filled with thousands of tiny black seeds. Which I will save to sow another year.

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Justin W. Hancock

Supporting D. Landreth Seed

Landreth SeedsIt’s been in the news for a while now, but D. Landreth Seed Company, out of Pennsylvania needs help. The nation’s oldest seed company has a goal of selling 1 million catalogs by the end of this month to end the threat of being forced out of business.

Besides offering an impressive number of flower and vegetable seeds (including some very cool heirlooms), the company also offers spring-blooming bulbs such as crocus and daffodils.

Learn more about Landreth’s situation — or click here to learn more about Landreth!

Justin W. Hancock

Growing Fruit from Seed

appleblogI get a fair number of questions from readers (and non-gardening friends, too!) about growing fruits from seed.

It seems like a great idea — why buy a $35 apple tree, for example, when you can just buy one for a couple of bucks at the store and plant the seeds. But unfortunately, it’s not nearly that simple in reality.

Most fruit trees are hybrid varieties, and do not reproduce reliably from seed. It’s similar to people — you’re not an exact replica of either of your parents.

In a lot of cases, you actually lose the best traits of the parent — vigorous growth, good quality fruit, or disease resistance.

Another reason that growing apples, peaches, cherries, etc. from seeds of produce from the grocery store is that it takes a long time for them to first bear fruit. So you may end up waiting years for your tree to give you harvests, only to find it’s mediocre fruit.

Additionally, many fruit trees are grafted onto a dwarfing rootstock. That means the tree is actually growing on another variety’s root system; this root variety keeps the tree smaller (only 15 to 20 feet tall, for example, instead of 30 feet or more).

That said, if you have the patience and space for from-seed fruit trees, you can certainly plant the seeds and see what you get.

Note: Some gardeners do this with tropical fruits for low-cost houseplants. Avocado, mango, papaya, and starfruit, for example, all grow readily from seed and make attractive houseplants!

James A. Baggett

Rays of Catalog Sun

sprngmag1My mailbox was frozen shut yesterday, but boy was I glad once I pried it open. Inside I discovered another ray of catalog sunshine waiting for me. There’s something so hopeful and reassuring about the pile of seed and plant catalogs piling up beside my bed while the thermometer outside my window dips below zero. I love nothing more than to pore through each and every mouthwatering catalog, even if the plants they offer up would be as out of place in my Zone 5a garden as lilacs in Louisiana. Since most of us are already familiar with the Burpee and Park Seed catalogs with their staggering Technicolor photographs and whopper flower and vegetable seeds, I thought I’d share some of my favorite lesser-known catalogs (above) well worth hunkering down with during this dreariest time of year:

• High Country Gardens ( in Santa Fe, New Mexico, makes the case for alternatives to conventional turfgrass lawns, and offers plenty of plants that will look great with minimal upkeep, especially water. When it comes to native and low-work and water lawn choices, David Salman is a true pioneer. I’m excited to try their new pink cotton lamb’s ear (Stachys lavandulifolius), an amazing wildflower with a profuse display of fuzzy, bright pink flower spikes that’ll be right at home in the hard clay of my hellstrip.

• Prairie Moon Nursery ( in Winona, Minnesota, is nothing if not passionate about native plants and prairie restoration for the Upper Midwest. They are the source for more than 600 native species, from the familiar (Culver’s root) to the hard-to-find (small-flowered leafcup). I only wish I had space for all eight varieties of liatris they offer.

• Southern Exposure Seed Exchange ( in Mineral, Virginia, features more than 700 varieties of heirloom and organic seeds in addition to tried-and-true favorites, with an emphasis on heritage, flavor, and disease resistance. If only our growing season was long enough to try their ‘Whopper’ peanuts, which the catalog says are twice as big as ‘Virginia Jumbo’.

• Sand Hill Preservation Center ( in Calamus, Iowa, is stewarded by Glenn and Linda Drowns, “genetic preservationists that are in this for the genetic diversity of this planet we call home.” They offer more than 1,600 rare and genetic treasures—seeds and poultry—for your selection. They produce all of their eggs for hatches, tend all of their own flocks, weed and care for the seed crops, and produce about 80 percent of the seed they sell.

• Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds ( in Mansfield, Missouri, carries one of the largest selections of seeds from the 19th century, including many Asian and European varieties. Baker Creek was started by Jere Gettle at the age of 17, when he printed the first catalog in 1998. The company has grown to offer 1,300 varieties of vegetables, flowers, and herbs—the largest selection of heirloom varieties in the United States—and we’re glad to call them our friends. Their breathtakingly gorgeous radishes will be featured in the Fall 2011 issue of Country Gardens.