Even though it's one of our favorite things to do, at first, seed gardening can feel overwhelming. As with any new endeavor, a few tips from an expert can put your efforts way ahead, making the overwhelming seem very doable. Here's some of our best tips we've learned over the many collective years of seed gardening we have at Botanical Interests.
- Focus. What are your favorite flowers or vegetables? Make a short list and start with those, to ensure you will want to eat and enjoy what comes up in the garden.
- Create a sowing calendar. Find your average first and average last frost dates, which vary by area. Use an internet search or contact your local, county Extension Office. This will go a long way to guiding you as to the correct time to sow seeds of different varieties. Once you know your dates, use our Sowing Guides to create a garden specific to your growing season.
- Sow outside. If you don't already have grow lights and an indoor growing space, then start with seeds you can sow directly outdoors. The outdoors is a seed's natural habitat, making sowing simple, and in many cases it is the best option for the plant.
- Keep it clean. If you start seed indoors or outdoors in containers, always sanitize the containers and use seed-starting mix or potting soil rather than garden soil, which can introduce pests and disease. Read more about growing in containers.
- Test the soil. Like humans, plants need particular nutrients for healthy, green growth and fruits. When those nutrients are out of balance, the result can be a beautiful, large tomato plant with no fruit or in the case of over-fertilization, it can leave plants susceptible to pests and disease and even cause pollution. A soil test from your local extension office or private company can save you that frustration. Because there are so many fertilizer and soil amendment options, a soil test will tell you exactly what to add to make your soil ideal for what you are growing. If your results don't show major issues, great, no need to test annually. However, it is pretty safe to assume that in a food garden you will likely want to add organic material annually because plants use up the soil nutrients, and once plants or fruits are harvested, those nutrients leave the garden (and go into your food), so they need to be replenished for a future successful garden.
- Exposure. Find where you get the most sun. Full sun means 6 or more hours of unshaded exposure, which is ideal for most plants, with a few exceptions.
- Water. In the beginning of a plant's life it will need frequent, shallow waterings, but as it grows, watering more deeply and less frequently will promote deep, strong roots. If you aren't sure if your plants need more water, don't be afraid to poke a finger into the soil. The vast majority of roots will be in the top 6" of soil. Most established plants can handle the first 1" drying out temporarily, and drought-tolerant plants can handle even more.
- Ask a friend. Ask gardeners! Garden centers (and us!) are great resources for questions and concerns. If you're lucky enough to have a gardener friend, have them come visit. They may see opportunities and tips that you didn't think to ask about. Don't worry! All "expert" gardeners started at the beginning.
- Keep a journal. Growth as a gardener can really be helped along if you have a good record of when and what you grew, what excelled in your garden, what flavors you preferred, etc. This habit will help you to continue to move forward year to year, and it also gives you time to simply reflect in your garden. This journal template can help keep your notes organized.
- Stay positive. Starting something new can always be a challenge. But as gardeners know, Mother Nature can dampen all your efforts, so it's important to look forward.
Gardening is part science experiment and part creative outlet. Seeds are designed to grow with soil and sun to feed them, and while they may not be originally adapted to our area, like peppers, we can learn a few tricks to help them along. If you ask almost any gardener, part of the fun of gardening is the learning, so let's get started! Learn more about seed starting with our seed starting articles.