Gardening has become one of the most popular hobbies today. Many people use gardening to relax, relieve stress and enjoy the great outdoors. If you have been gardening for any length of time, you know how pricey the hobby can get. From an economic standpoint, growing plants from seed are by far the cheapest way to populate your plant. Planting seeds represent a significant monetary saving, not to mention it’s a lot of fun.
One of the main reasons people grow plants from seed is because they can choose from a wide variety of plants in seed catalogs. Growing plants from seeds are also often cheaper than buying them. More importantly, you get to guide the plant through a whole life cycle, potentially establishing an addition to your garden that will last for years. Vegetable or flower seeds are good choices for first-time growers.
Types of Garden Seeds
Springtime brings with it another garden season and it seems a good time to review all the different types of seeds available to you now.
The five types of seeds you may encounter when making your seed purchases include Open-Pollinated Seeds, Heirloom Seeds, Hybrid Seeds, GMO Seeds, and Spores.
Open-Pollinated Seeds. Open-Pollinated Seeds are seeds that have been pollinated by nature. Meaning to say, they are the offspring of two plants of the same variety, pollinated by bees, butterflies, etc. They are also often referred to as the standard varieties. So, if plants of an OP variety are kept isolated from different plants with which they can cross, they will produce seed that will come “true to type.” In other words, the plants in the following generation will resemble the parent plants.
Heirloom Seeds. Heirloom seeds are a special classification of open-pollinated seeds. Each year, for at least 50 years, seeds were gathered in the fall and planted in the spring to be allowed to mature without human interference in the process.
All Heirloom seeds are open pollinated. And, whatever the birds, bees or wind does, these seeds remain the same. That year after year they will still be able to produce the same plant characteristics as the parent plants.
Many times, the seeds that are produced by heirlooms are sterile and if they are not, they generally revert to the traits of a single parent plant – losing all the uniqueness that makes the hybrid so desirable.
Before applied science, gardeners and farmers would choose their best plants and save the seeds from the for the next year’s crop. In this way, the crop would improve year by year through a selection of the highest quality plants.
Hybrid Seeds. Hybrid Seeds are seeds that have been crossbred by humans to express certain traits in the plants. They are used in affluence in agriculture because the hybrid is generally a stronger and more potent plant compared to its parents. They often also deliver a higher yield per acre – something every commercial farmer desires.
On the other hand, these seeds also enable people to get creative and develop crosses between two compatible plant species. Usually seen in the supermarket when fruits like apples that taste like grapes, melons that taste like lemons, etc.
And of course, the seed companies love hybrids because they make the farmers dependent on them every year for a new shipment of seed for their crops.
Hybrid seeds are not ideal for preppers because you can’t usually use them for the next season. However, for many reasons, gardeners prefer them since you could just easily buy them in any stores.
GMO Seeds. GMO seeds mean they will undergo a genetic modification and have the DNA of one species introduced to another species. It is sort of like hybrid seeds on steroids – compressing many, many generations of manipulation in one fell swoop. This is usually done in laboratories where they turn something impossible to possible. The risks are enormous and the outcomes for the future are unknown and feared dangerous.
Meanwhile, there’s still a lot of controversy regarding the safety of produce grown from GMO seeds that make them a terrible source of seeds. While most GMO crops have been designed to produce sterile seeds by inserting what they call a gene terminator. This means farmers must re-purchase new seeds each year from the corporations that own the patent rights to these seeds.
Spores. Spores are very tiny like powder that is produced by plants. It can be collected at the appropriate time to plant a new harvest. There are a variety of plants that produce spores, and not seeds. The most common food plant that is grown from spore is the mushroom.
Methods for Planting Seeds
All seeds require a few basic things to grow: sunlight, a growing medium, and water. The key to making sure a seed germinates and grows into a healthy plant is to provide these elements according to the needs of the plant species.
There are 3 methods for planting seeds. First is the hand planting, next is the half-automatic planting, and last is the automatic planting
Hand Planting. The furrow is made after the seedbed preparation. It is placed in the furrow by hand and the seed is covered with soil by closing the furrow.
With this system, there is little risk of sprout damage, but planting depth and planting distance may be irregular.
Also, the soil that surrounds the planted tuber may dry in case the intervals between each of the operations are long.
Half-Automatic Planting. With this system planting depth and distance can be well adjusted.
There is little sprout damage and the soil surrounding the planted tuber does not dry, since making the furrow, planting, and closure of the furrow are all done in one operation.
Automatic Planting. The capacity of these planters is high and the quality of planting is high since planting depth and distance can be well adjusted. Sprout damage may be a problem when the pre-sprouted seed is planted.
The soil surrounding the planted tuber does not dry, since making the furrow, planting, and closure of the furrow are all done in one operation.
You will start by preparing the growing containers. But how are you going to do it? First, you moisten the seed-starting medium so that it will have a good growing environment. Second, fill the containers with the medium and leave a ½ inch of space between the top and the rim of the containers. And third is to place the container in a sunny and well-ventilated area that has a warm and steady temperature.
Growing seeds indoors is one way of starting your garden. Another option is to tuck seeds directly into soil – outdoors. Planting seeds this way is called direct sowing, and it’s an easy process that yields great results.
Unlike indoor seed starting, direct sowing involves unpredictable elements: weather, wildlife, and insects. Even so, many vegetables, annuals, herbs, and perennials sprout easily from seed sown directly into garden soil.
Sowing the seed will depend on the type of the plant that you are growing so it’s essential to check on the packet carefully. While some seeds do best when they are chilled or soaked before sowing, others do best with a temperature of about 78 degrees. Some would also need a colder or a warmer condition to germinate. Be sure you’re providing the right sunlight conditions for your specific seed species since most seeds can germinate without light. However, they’ll need the sun as soon as they sprout.
Also, be sure to water the seeds consistently and never allow them to dry out too much. However, don’t overwater the containers, or the seeds could become waterlogged. They should be moist, but not dripping wet. You can also lightly drape a piece of plastic wrap over the seed trays to help in trapping the moisture.
You’ll see thin green stems emerge from the growing medium as the seeds sprout into seedlings. If the containers aren’t already placed in a sunny area, make sure to move them to a place with direct sunlight or provide them with grow lights overhead. You can place a heat mat under the seed-starting tray to maintain the correct temperature.
After a week or two, weed out the weaker-looking seedlings so that the stronger ones
Which Seed Planting Method is Right for You?
Choosing the right type of seed can be very important. If you are just worried about the next season, choosing a series of hybrid seeds and properly storing them until the garden season is a perfect choice. They are easier to work with than heirloom seeds and will generate a perfectly fine bounty of food for you for that season.
But if you are preparing for a long-term scenario or just truly want to be independent of the system, your only choice is to get a good variety of heirloom seeds and learn how to save seeds from one year’s crop for the next year’s planting. Prep work needed before planting seeds:
Select a type of plant that thrives in your growing region. When you pick out seeds to plant, do a little research to make sure the plant species does well in your area because not all plants can grow in every region. A good way to figure out what plants grow well in your area is to visit a local nursery to be able to help you pick out hardy seeds that have a great chance of germinating and growing into healthy plants.
The area’s temperature and climate have also a big factor in the plant’s chances of success to grow, but if you have a greenhouse or plan to grow your plant indoors, you may be able to plant a seed even if the species is not native to your growing region.
Know what time of year to plant the seed. Starting seeds too early or late can prevent germination from occurring, so it’s important to always research your specific seed and plant to understand how best to start it.
If you live in a place with long, cold winters, you may need to wait until mid-Spring to plant your seeds. If you live in a place that warms up early in the year, you can probably start earlier. Check your seed packet for information on how early to start your seeds.
If you are starting seeds indoors, you should keep in mind that most vegetable seeds need to be started at least two weeks before the last frost, and some as early as 2-3 months before the last frost. Even if you live in a cold area, you’ll need to plan to make sure you start your seeds in time for the growing season.
Get seed-starting supplies. Most seeds need similar growing conditions when they’re first starting out. When the seeds sprout and grow into plants, they’ll have more specific needs in terms of soil, sun, and temperature conditions. In getting ready for planting seeds, you need to have the following supplies:
- Seed containers. Each seed is going to need 1–2 inches or 2.5–5.1 cm of space to germinate and take root. However, you can grow them all together in an open flat, or choose an individual seed container. When you have all the time in the world, you can make DIY containers out of recycled yogurt cups or egg carton.
- Seed growing medium. Seeds contain all the nutrients they need to germinate, so there’s no need to use a growing medium that has been enriched with nutrients. Don’t use potting soil, since it’s too dense for fragile new roots to penetrate, instead, use a mix of vermiculite or perlite and either peat moss, coir, or compost.
When to Plant Seeds
Starting flower seeds early indoors gives you a jump on the growing season. Knowing the best time to start flower seeds depends on your climate and the hardiness of the flowers you intend to plant. Cool season flowers are hardier to the cooler temperatures that may be experienced in early spring. Flowers that are tender to cold temperatures should not be grown outdoors until the chance of frost has passed.
If you choose to start seeds indoors while temperatures are still cool outside, remember that young plants need warmth and light. They can be accommodated with a heating pad placed beneath the seedling tray for added warmth. Although sunlight through the window can be adequate for growth, a fluorescent light or grow light is ideal. Insufficient light can lead to weakened stems. To ensure your seed-starting efforts are rewarded with healthy, flowering plants, proper seedling care is essential.
Steps for Planting Garden Seeds
Growing flowers from seed can be a difficult task for beginners. Seeds and seedlings are delicate, and the wrong conditions can ruin them easily. To achieve the best results, plant your seeds indoors into a small, sterile container using professionally packaged potting soil. Follow the instructions on the back of your seed packet and provide plenty of light and water to your growing seedlings. Once the flowers have developed strong enough roots, transplant them into your garden.
- Set the planting time
- Select a starting pot
- Add seed starting mix
- Plant your seeds
- Cover seeds based on their size
- Seal moisture in with plastic
- Keep the seeds in warm, indirect sunlight
- Check moisture levels every day or two
Aftercare for Planted Seeds
Watering. Deep, infrequent watering is preferred over frequent, light watering. Slow deep watering allows the soil to become thoroughly moist and encourages a deep root system
Fertilization. Additional fertilizer application can be made 6-8 weeks after planting if the appearance of the plants requires it. Apply about one-quarter to one-half the recommended bed preparation rate (1-2 pounds per 100 square feet) of fertilizer to the planting bed. If dry fertilizer is used, follow the application with water to remove fertilizer from the foliage. Liquid fertilizer is also an option and it should be applied to moist, not dry soil.
Mulching. After annuals are planted, a 2-3-inch layer of organic mulch may be applied. Not only is it attractive but it also helps to conserve soil moisture, retard weed growth and helps keep the soil cool. Mulch materials such as dry grass clippings, hulls, pine needles, compost or shredded leaves are acceptable.
Weeding. It is essential that weeds be controlled while small and as they appear. Weeds will compete for space, moisture, and nutrients with the annuals. Remove them with shallow cultivation. Mulch added afterward will help retard future weed growth. As annuals get larger and start to fill in and shade the soil surface this will also help to slow down the growth of weeds.
Grooming – Deadheading and Pinching. Many annuals require little additional care to keep them attractive and blooming all summer. However, some annuals benefit from the removal of spent flowers to encourage a strong bloom. Annuals such as geranium, marigold, salvia, the cosmos, snapdragon and other spike-type flowers benefit from the removal of old flowers. Deadheading will help the plants remain attractive, keep them from going to seed, help prevent disease and increase flower production with a pruning shears.
Most annuals need no deadheading as they are “self-cleaning” meaning the old blooms fall off naturally and do not require the manual removal of old flowers. Annuals such as begonia, petunia, impatiens, and vinca are examples of “self-cleaning” annuals.
While hard to do, pinching off the blooms of new transplants when setting them into the garden results in bushier plants with more flowers potential as the season progresses. If your transplants are tight and compact, to begin with, there might not be any reason to pinch them. Many of the newer hybrids display a short compact growth habit. Use your judgment but remember to not be afraid to pinch.
Common Mistakes When Planting Seeds
Whether you have experience starting seeds, you’ll improve your success by avoiding these common errors.
Catalog Hypnosis. It’s tough to resist the beautiful pictures and glowing words in seed catalogs. Even experienced gardeners struggle to resist the allure. That’s the first mistake most seed starters make: ordering too many seeds.
A simple secret to success with seed starting is exercising self-restraint. If you’re new to the practice, don’t start too many different types of seeds. Stick with simple ones, such as tomato, basil, zinnia or cosmos.
Starting Too Soon. In many regions, sowing seeds give you a chance to get your hands dirty when it’s too cold to garden outdoors. Don’t start your seeds too soon. Most plants are ready to shift into the great outdoors in four to six weeks.
Planting Too Deep. Read seed packets carefully, for detailed information about how deep to plant seeds. The rule of thumb is to plant seeds at a depth equal to two or three times their width. It’s better to plant seeds too shallow than too deep. Some seeds, such as certain lettuces or snapdragon, need light to germinate and shouldn’t be covered at all.
Not Labeling Trays. Once you start sowing seeds and get dirt on your fingers, you won’t want to stop and make labels. Before planting, prepare labels and add them to containers as soon as the seeds go into the soil. Otherwise, it can be tough to tell seedlings apart. Be sure to include sowing date on your labels.
Soil Isn’t Warm. Seed packets specify the temperature seeds need to germinate – soil temperature, not air temperature. Most seeds germinate at 78 degrees F. You’ll have sure success if you use a waterproof root-zone heating mat. Once seeds germinate, aim to keep soil temperature in the 65- to 70-degree range.
Too Little Light. In the warmest regions of the country, there’s enough ambient light in a south-facing window to grow stocky seedlings. In northern areas where winter brings persistent cloud cover; you’ll need supplemental lights. Purchase or build an illuminated plant stand to start seedlings
Water Woes. For seeds to germinate, you need to keep the growing soil damp but not too wet. Many seed starters cover the container to keep the soil moist until seeds germinate. Once the seeds sprout, don’t miss a watering. Unlike established plants, seedlings don’t have an extensive root system they can rely on for vital moisture. At the same time, it’s important not to over water and let seedlings sit in water.
Not Enough Pampering. Seedlings are delicate creatures. They need daily attention and lots of tender loving care, especially when they’re young. If you can’t monitor seedlings daily, checking on germination, soil moisture, temperature, and lights, you’ll reduce your chances of success. Seedlings don’t survive neglect
Growing plants from seeds at home can also give you more control over the plant’s health and longevity. Growing plants from seed is an art as well as a science. Many different techniques will produce healthy plants. Experiment with different methods until you find what works best for you.
The more you learn about gardening, the more you realize how commercially grown plant selections can be very limiting. It is easy to go out and buy multiple flats of beautiful plants each spring, but you will probably have the same flowers as everyone else on the block. The need for immediate gratification is certainly satisfied, but it does not take long for a gardener to discover that growing plants from seed opens a whole new world in terms of the wide selection of varieties that are available for your garden. Before you know it the “need for seed” is a driving force in your hobby.