Monthly Archives: January 2009

Seed Starting 101

Why should you grow plants from seed?

`      Witnessing a seed sprout and grow into a plant is a joy and wonder of nature!

`      Starting plants from seed gives you control over growing conditions.

`      It’s less expensive than purchasing plants, especially if you want large numbers.

`      Many unique or larger varieties are not available in garden centers as plants.

`      All Botanical Interests seed varieties have been pre-tested for germination rate at an independent laboratory to give you the best chance for success.

What do seeds need to succeed?

A Comfy Container – Almost any empty container at home can be used to start seeds – clean milk, yogurt, or margarine containers, egg cartons, etc. Seed starting trays and small packs are also available at garden centers and are fairly inexpensive. Any container used must have drainage holes on the bottom. If you reuse containers each season, be sure to disinfect them with a 1:9 bleach solution to destroy any potential seedling pathogens.

Good soil – For best results, always start your seeds in a high quality seed starting mix (available at most garden centers and nurseries). It will be light and fluffy to prevent compaction and will not have pathogens or pests like garden soil.

Consistent moisture – Seedlings must be kept moist (but not soggy) at all times. If they dry out just once, they are “toast”! Conversely, you don’t want to drown them. Soil that is too saturated is an invitation for fungal problems.

Air Circulation – Indoors, providing good air circulation (similar to wind fluctuations outside) will help prevent damping off fungus (causes stems to get spindly and fall over) and increase the strength of each seedling’s stem. To do this, you can place a small oscillating fan a few feet away from seedlings.

Temperature – Most seeds will germinate just fine at room temperature.
A heat mat is usually not necessary, but seeds that prefer very warm temperatures for germination (like tomatoes and peppers) may benefit from it.

And most importantly … Let there be light!

When you start seeds indoors, do they get tall and skinny and fall over? The most common reason that seeds don’t develop into healthy plants is lack of sufficient light. If you are starting them indoors, they must be in a sunny south-facing window that gets light most of the day or be under fluorescent light bulbs with 14 to 16 hours of light every day. (You should keep the lights 1-2 inches above the seedlings to prevent them from stretching towards it.)

When to Plant:

Before you plant, the most important thing to know is when the
AVERAGE LAST FROST DATE occurs in your region in spring. (If you are interested in planting a fall garden, look up your AVERAGE FIRST FROST DATE.) You can contact your local county extension office for this information and more particulars about gardening in your area. To find your local office, click here: Local Extension Office

For a general U.S. map of average last frost dates, click here:
Average Last Frost Date

Why is this important? So you will know how many weeks before the last frost to start seeds indoors or when it is safe to plant or transplant outdoors.

Sowing indoors: What types of plants should be started indoors?

Plants that require a long growing season to reach maturity
Biennial or perennial flowers that you want to encourage to bloom in first season
Plants grown for edible sprouts
Some vegetables that are recommended for starting indoors include:

Artichokes, celery, eggplant, endive, leeks, onions (bulbing), peppers, sprouts (alfalfa), sprouts (mung bean), sprouts (fenugreek), tomatillos, tomatoes, wheatgrass

Herbs that are recommended for starting indoors include:

Most herbs, but especially: fenugreek (for sprouts), marjoram, oregano, savory, thyme

Some flowers that are recommended for starting indoors include:

Flax, Impatiens, Lobelia, Marigolds, Nemesia, Ornamental Peppers, Ornamental Eggplant, Pansies (12 weeks before blooms desired), Salvia Blue Victoria, Statice, Violas

(Also note that seedlings started indoors must be ‘hardened off’ gradually to allow them to adjust to outdoor weather conditions. Put them outside in a filtered sun/shade location away from harsh winds during the day for just a short time at first. Bring them in at night and gradually increase their time outdoors each day for a week.)

Sowing outdoors: What types of plants should be started outdoors?

Plants that don’t transplant well (weakened by root disturbance)
Plants that require very warm temperatures to sprout and get established
Root crops (carrots, beets, parsnips, etc.)
Vegetables that are recommended for starting outdoors include:

Amaranth, arugula, beans, beets, bok choy, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, corn, edamame, gourds, mustard, onion (bunching), parsnips, peas, pumpkins, radishes, spinach, squash (summer), squash (winter), Swiss chard, turnips

Herbs that are recommended for starting outdoors include:

Borage, cilantro, Clary sage, dill, fenugreek, mitsuba

Flowers that are recommended for starting outdoors include:

All large packet flower mixes, Baby’s Breath, Bachelor Button, Bishop’s Flower, Black Eyed Susan Vine, Broom Corn, Cardinal Climber Vine, Castor Bean, Cat Grass, Chocolate Flower, Cleome, California poppies, Forget-Me-Not Spring & Summer, Four O’Clock, Godetia, Hyacinth Bean Vine, Love in a Mist, Money Plant, Nasturtiums, Poppies, Sunflowers, Virginian Stock, Zinnias

Most Botanical Interest varieties not listed above can be started indoors or outdoors. Follow instructions on back or inside of packet.

So now that you’ve taken Seed Starting 101, it’s not too early to start choosing seed varieties for your spring garden if you haven’t already.

Remember that some plants like TOMATOES and PEPPERS require sowing indoors 6 to 8 weeks before transplanting outside, and you will want to give them a good head start before spring to get the most fruit before fall frost.

Michelle DePaepe

It is time to garden!

Gardening in January?

I love gardening. Love. Love. Love it!

But, by December…I’m usually grateful for a break, especially because the holiday season takes up so much of my time for family and friends. (Oh yeah…and because the ground is often frozen and covered with a couple inches of snow.)

However…by the time the gardening catalogs start coming in the mail, I start wistfully dreaming of my spring garden and all the cool, yummy, beautiful things that I want to grow when the weather is warmer.

Although Botanical Interests does not produce a picture catalog for you to drool over next to the fireplace, I think we have something even better! Botanical Interests packets and website have such great tips for succeeding with each variety, it is a blessing to have such great information that allows us to actually grow each variety in our own garden (instead of being disappointed because we get a stunted seedling instead of a technicolor PERFECT specimen like you see in those fancy catalogs).Pansy Betwitched

All Botanical Interests varieties are pre-tested for germination at an independent laboratory before they are approved for packing. This means that you are always starting with very quality seed…and varieties that have been chosen for excellent performance in the home garden.

So, what’s a gardener to do when they start going through the gardening withdrawal blues in winter? Below are some recommendations for things you can start indoors if you live in a cold climate and are sidelined from outdoor gardening:

Coleus – Given adequate light (a sunny south or west facing window or a grow light), coleus makes an easy houseplant. Try Coleus Rainbow Blend, and keep the plants indoors until after your average last frost date. Pinching the plants back will keep them compact and lush.

Leeks – To get good-sized leeks, you need a LONG growing period (120 days for maturity). January is not too soon to start seedlings indoors. Because these plants can tolerate cold temperatures, you can start transitioning them outdoors in early spring. Try Leek American Flag or our organic Leek.

Pansies and Violas – It takes about 3 months after sowing seed to get flowering plants. So, if you sow indoors in January, you can have pretty, blooming, well-established plants to transition outside in April. Check out Pansy Bewitched Blend, Pansy Caramel Spice,  Pansy Got the Blues, Pansy Swiss Giant Blend, Viola Viola Johnny Jump-Up, Viola King Henry. Viola Prince John.

Catnip – You can start catnip plants indoor in a sunny window (with protection from your resident felines) at any time of year, then transition the plants outside in spring, 2 to 4 weeks before the average first frost date. Catnip spreads easily – we recommend growing in a container outside. Catnip. organic Catnip.

Rudbeckis Irish EyesCat Grass – Grow these nutritious oat greens indoors year ’round. Pots can be set outside in spring after the average first frost date. Cat Grasslarge packet Cat Grass.

Perennial Flowers – Perennials that are hardy in your zone can tolerate frost if they are transitioned slowly outdoors in early spring. You may want to start some of them indoors as early as January if you are planning to start a lot of perennials from seed or are hoping to get blooms in the first season. If you start them in January, transition them outside as the weather allows in March or April. Here are a few (but not all) recommendations for cold-hardy perennials that can be started early: English Daisy Pomponette Blend. Forget Me Not Victoria Blue. Forget Me Not Victoria Pink. Foxglove Gloxinifloria. Lavender Hyssop. Rudbeckia Black Eyed Susan. Rudbeckia Goldstrum. Check out many of our perennial flowers.
Tomatoes and Peppers – it is still a little early for those of you with frost dates late April/Early May BUT you can look at our wonderful varieties and research (or order) the varieties you will want to start indoors. Tomatoes, Peppers.
For some answers to simple questions about starting seeds indoors (do your seedlings get long and skinny and fall over?), checkout our Seed Starting Guide.
Happy Winter Gardening,

Michelle DePaepe