Be a Savvy Seed Sower
Seeds are not all the same. They don’t look the same and they don’t germinate in the same ways or even in the same timeframe. To break dormancy and germinate a seed needs moisture combined with temperatures in the correct range for them to grow.
Yet, growing from seed is both easy and fun, and savvy gardeners know that one of the best ways to ensure productive vegetables and herbs, and beautiful flowers is to grow All-America Selections winners. They’ve been rigorously tested across North America and are well known for their superior garden performance.
Warm up the soil!
Every type of seed has an ideal temperature for germination. Basil seeds, like Dolce Fresca, for example have an ideal soil temperature of 70F, while tomatoes like Mountain Rouge F1 like it a bit warmer, in the 75 to 90F range. Peas, on the other hand, like Patio Pride, can be planted outdoors when the soil temperature is just 50F. Being mindful of ideal soil temperatures can help you provide the right growing conditions to coax seeds out of dormancy. Not sure of the recommended soil temperature? Check the seed packet as most offer details on specific growing conditions.
Starting Your Seeds…
• Outdoors – Most heat-loving vegetables, like squash, melons, cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes benefit from being seeded or transplanted into soil that is at least 65 F. Living in a short-season climate where spring weather is often cold, I like to pre-warm the soil before planting these crops into my raised beds. To pre-warm, I simply cover the beds with a sheet of clear or black plastic at least two weeks before I intend to seed or transplant. Remove the plastic before planting.
• Indoors – While many types of seeds sprout fine in average room temperature, germination rates can be increased and sprouting time decreased by providing bottom heat. This is especially true of heat-loving pepper, eggplant, basil, melon, and gourd seeds. Seeds of hot peppers, like Cayenne Red Ember, Habanero Roulette, and Fresno Flaming Flare, respond especially well to warm soil temperatures. As do seedless watermelons, like Harvest Moon which need a soil temperature over 85F to germinate. Happily, there are several easy ways to provide this extra warmth. For years, I’ve placed seed trays on top of my refrigerator or on a heating pad. The goal is to warm the soil from the bottom in a safe manner. You can also pick up an inexpensive seed heating mat from your favorite garden supply store to maintain a stable temperature while seeds germinate.
Give them a bath!
For some seeds, particularly those with hard seed coats, germination can be sped up or increased by soaking the seeds before planting.
• Soaking – Soaking is an easy way to soften a hard seed coat to spark germination. I often pre-soak my peas, beans, corn, gourds, squash, and nasturtiums, like Baby Rose. To soak, fill small dishes with warm water and add the seeds. Be sure to cover the seeds with at least an inch or two of water as they absorb water as they soak and you don’t want them to dry out. Place the seed packet in front of the dish or add a labeled marker so you don’t mix up your varieties. Trust me, I’ve been there! I soak most types of seeds for four to six hours, although I have been known to soak my sweet pea seeds overnight, or for eight to ten hours to soften their hard seed coats. Plant immediately after soaking.
Lots of light!
Once your indoor sown seeds have germinated, they’ll need plenty of light to grow into strong, sturdy plants. A lack of adequate light is the biggest challenge when growing plants indoors. Most plants need sixteen hours of light per day, which can be impossible to provide if you’re using a windowsill in late winter or early spring.
• Lighting – To boost success, many gardeners opt to install grow-lights. My set-up is simple. I use four-foot-long shop lights hung on a wooden stand. Each fixture is fitted with a warm and cool fluorescent tube. The fixtures are hung on chains so I can easily move them up as the plants grow. It’s inexpensive and effective, but there are many lighting options available to gardeners from garden supply companies.