By this time every winter, green-starved gardeners pacify their days with high hopes and visions of their ideal garden come Spring. Our mailboxes and computer screens are filled with plant porn in the form of seed catalogs and garden magazines promising nothing less than pure garden Nirvana if you choose their seeds. But buyer beware! The power of the air brush and printed word can lure us into impulse seed purchases that we may not be able to fully commit to or find homes for. Plus, sometimes the latest and greatest just doesn’t measure up the hype. Most of the consumer seed packets purchased in the US are never planted because of this “eyes bigger than our stomach” mentality. Don’t be part of this statistic. Follow these words of wisdom to ensure success with seeds.
Just like a good recipe, the key to success is following the directions to ensure things turn out just right. Seeds are no different, so use the directions on the packet as a guide. The packet will also include cultural and care tips helpful for starting, and later placing and growing your plants outdoors. Quality ingredients will affect the outcome. Always buy good seed from a reputable seed company or a garden center you trust that has edited the varieties to those that do the very best in our area. If seeding indoors, use a sterile seed starting mix. Plant the seeds at the depth recommended on the packet. Water and lightly cover the soil with plastic to keep soil moisture high during germination, then remove the cover as soon as you notice that your seeds have sprouted. At that time move to a very sunny window or under grow lights. Keep your seedlings moist, but not wet, allowing the soil to barely dry between watering. You might be tempted to start your seeds early, but don’t do it. They will germinate, but will usually get too leggy and weak by the time outdoor soil and air temperatures are warm enough for transplant. Trust me, follow the recipe for best results.
Choosing which seeds to sow versus which varieties you will purchase in plant form can be determined by how much time, energy, and patience you want to put into your self-seeding mission. Utilize the experts at the garden center to help choose the varieties that are best for you. Start with the varieties easiest from seed, then add varieties depending on how much space, effort, and time you have left to devote to your seedlings. Many varieties can be sown directly in the garden with great success, while others need just a few week jumpstart before being planted outdoors. For me, they are the no brainer choices for home seed starting. Vegetables like carrots, peas, beets, beans, radishes, sweet corn, squash, and many salad greens are the very easiest from seed and can be directly sown outside. Don’t forget the flowers. Consider easy-from-seed varieties like morning glory, nasturtium, zinnias, sun flowers, sweet peas, hyacinth bean, and marigold. Fussier seeds with long germination times, those that need scarification, stratification, special lights and temperatures are best left to the professionals. I will also not bother seeding varieties that I might only need a few of. For instance, do you really want or need 25 of the same tomato variety when you could simply purchase 25 different tomato varieties from the garden center? We grow thousands of varieties from seed, and believe me, some of them are best left for us to grow for you in our greenhouses.
If you have never tried starting plants from seed, give it a whirl. It is a lot easier than you think. It is a great way to remain connected to your garden while nurturing the new beginnings of the season to come, and sow forth.
Scott Endres is co-owner of Tangletown Gardens and Tangletown’s Wise Acre Eatery on 54th and Nicollet in South Minneapolis.