Seed Starting

Seed Starting Outdoors

Direct Sowing in the Garden

Planting seeds directly in your garden, or direct sowing, is a process that has been repeated by nature and humans alike longer than we have records to prove it. It represents the connection that people have to the earth and the sustenance it provides. It is a process that most gardeners repeat frequently because it is the means to an end-- a beautiful and productive garden. But, it is also an experience filled with fun and wonder for gardeners of all ages and skills as we watch our sown seeds turn into the fruits (and flowers) of our labors. With an understanding of how seeds work, you'll be able to create a formula for success, and then repeat it again and again each season.

First, it helps to understand what a seed is. Then we'll take a look at what factors will influence your success. A seed is the embryo of a plant. It usually comes packaged with some food and is enclosed in a protective coat. It is actually a dynamic little (or not so little) system of interactions that functions to preserve the genetic potential of its parents until it is time to grow.

Seeds respond to water, light (or absence of light), and temperature. They do this within the surroundings they're planted in. After germination, they require space, soil, water and nutrients. In the case of direct sowing, your garden will be the place where they receive what they need to live and get all the signals they need from nature to grow and develop.

There is more water in a plant than any other component. How you apply it becomes one of the most important factors in determining the overall health of your seedlings. When a seed comes in contact with water it begins to absorb it. This signals to the seed that it is time to come out of dormancy, germinate, and grow. Seedlings are fragile in the early stages of life. At this time, consistent moisture is vital. Growing seeds outdoors can present some challenges. Gardeners in some areas of the country can depend on rain to keep their soil moist. In other areas, rainfall can be unpredictable, or absent, and so watering becomes your job. After sowing, seeds should be watered gently, but thoroughly. If your seeds are tiny, or are to be sown shallow, you may want to wet your soil before sowing. Moisture should be maintained consistently after the first watering, but never to the point of soggy soil. Saturated soil can create conditions that will rot your seeds before they germinate. You can cover your seeds with any sort of moisture-retaining mulch. Mulch, in its simplest sense, is anything you use as a soil cover to retain moisture. Check your seedlings daily to ensure that your mulch doesn't prevent them from emerging. If your sown seeds are allowed to dry out too much after germination, they may die.

Where you choose to start your seedlings is one of the most important decisions you can make. Unless you plan on transplanting your seedlings, the spot you choose to sow in is the place where they will grow, and they need to be able to access the resources they need in that place. The first consideration is light. Your Botanical Interests seed packet will indicate the optimal amount of light for your plants. The recommendations are general and can vary slightly by time of year, elevation, or directional exposure. Full sun indicates that your plant likes plenty of sun -6-8+ hours of direct sun each day is best. Part sun and part shade are the same. This means that your plants require some sun, but may not perform their best in all-day summer sun, so 3-6 hours is best. Shade means that your plants require some protection from excessive sun. This does not usually mean, however, that your plants should be placed in the deepest shade possible with no direct sun exposure. Flowering plants that are meant for shade still require some sun to produce blossoms. Shade plants do best with 3 or less hours of sun each day. Many recommendations will mix two of these groups, like "Sun to part shade." This means that the plant will perform in sun ranging from approximately 3 to 8 or more, hours a day.

Once you have found a spot with the right amount of sun, you need make sure that your plant will have enough room to grow. Your Botanical Interests seed packet will tell you the amount of space your plants will need to perform their best. Plants that are crowded together will compete for resources and may not produce the expected results.

Once you have determined that you have the right amount of sun and space, it is time to look at your soil. The soil you sow your seeds in may be the most prominent factor influencing germination, growth and performance of your plants. There is a common phrase used to describe the ideal soil for most plants, usually stated as, "fertile, well-drained soil." This describes soil that holds some water, but not too much, has a reasonable amount of available plant nutrients, and has a texture that allows penetration of both water and plant roots. This soil will work for most plants. Some plants prefer other specific soil conditions and your Botanical Interests seed packet will tell you this.

Before you sow seeds in a given spot, you should discover the nature of the soil. This would be the time to amend your soil or remedy any of its shortcomings. Your local county Extension service is a great place to start. They have lots of information about local soils. They can give you recommendations for amending it, and direct you to soil-testing services to help you make good fertilizer choices.

After you are happy with the condition of your soil, it is time to prepare it to receive seeds. Finer soil is better at holding moisture. Carefully preparing the surface soil will help your seeds germinate reliably and allow their fine roots to penetrate the soil more easily, leading to quicker establishment. If you choose a seed that takes a while to germinate, you can use a mulch cover to help retain soil moisture. You can also use vermiculite, fine-ground peat, or horticultural polymers in your planting trenches or holes to help maintain moisture near the developing seeds.

Weather and environment play a pivotal role in the functioning of the natural world, including your garden. It can be the source of free water. Sometimes rain can be excessive, but if you have prepared your soil and garden beds, what isn't needed can drain away. If rain is insufficient, a conscientious gardener with a watering can or hose can supplement it. Wind can help with air circulation, lowering the incidents of fungal and bacterial diseases. In excess, it can increase a plants water needs or cause damage. Temperature, however, often holds the biggest sway over our gardening plans. Temperature governs the rate at which things happen in a plant. Concerning germination, temperature influences how fast germination and emergence occur, if at all. All plants have an ideal range for germination. Weather history influences the soil temperature. As days get longer and air temperatures increase, soil temperatures do the same. Your Botanical Interests seed packet gives you a recommended time to sow your seeds outdoors. This recommendation is based on two things: 1) the ideal soil temperature for germination of a given seed, and 2) the time of year that soils are most likely, on average, to be the ideal temperature. With this information in hand, you can time your plantings to give your garden the best chances for success. To download Sowing Guide for Vegetables and Herbs click here. To download Sowing Guide for Flowers click here.

Now that you know what factors influence the success of an outdoor-sown garden, you can put them into practice. It is always a good time of year for planning. Start by picking out which Botanical Interests varieties you want to grow. Ask yourself, "how much sun do they need?" Then go take a look at your soil and space. Read your Botanical Interests seed packets. They have all the information you need to make your gardening decisions and create your best garden ever. Let the fun begin!

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