Starting plants from seed has many practical benefits: You save money, get a head start on the growing season, and choose from varieties far beyond those locally available. You also get to experience the joy of watching a seemingly lifeless seed sprout into a living plant.
A seed is a plant embryo and its initial food supply is stored within a protective coating. Seeds remain dormant until a combination of moisture, temperature, air, and light triggers germination.
Seeds have different shelf lives. Some will remain viable for hundreds of years, whereas others may only store well for a couple of years.
Knowing when to start seeds indoors takes some backward thinking. Find out the average date of the last frost in your area and the number of weeks before that date you should start a particular seed. (The number of weeks varies and is listed on the seed package.) Then count backward on the calendar from the average last frost date.
As a general rule, start most seeds six to eight weeks before your average last frost date. If you start seeds too early, you'll have to keep the seedlings inside too long, and they will be weak by transplant time.
- containers for starting seeds
- seed-starting soil mix
- plant labels
You can use pretty much anything you want for your containers. A cardboard egg carton makes an excellent biodegradable seed-starting flat, as do cut-down milk jugs, yogurt cups, nursery flats, and disposable aluminum pans. You can also purchase biodegradable peat pots that can be set in the ground when it's time to move seedlings outdoors. Whatever you choose, make sure the container has holes in the bottom for good drainage.
Seeds are a little fussier about what medium you start them in. Because seeds contain enough food to support the germinating seedlings in their first days, they don't need to start in an especially nutrient-rich medium. Use a sterile, weed-free seed-starting mix that holds water well. Good commercial seed-starting mixtures are available at nurseries and garden centers.
Many seedlings look alike, so labels are a good idea. Write the plant names on frozen-dessert sticks or other labels, and stick them in the soil. Keep your seed packages for reference.
Continued on page 2: Getting Started