Walk into any nursery or garden center and you will see loads of gorgeous plants. It’s hard for any plant lover to resist walking away with a cartload of those beauties, but look a little deeper and you’ll find a more valuable treasure…seeds! Planting a garden from seeds allows you greater flexibility in terms of timing and options, and far greater value compared with buying starter plants. If you have ever wondered how to start a garden from seeds, or why to start a garden from seeds, I can help.
Why You Should Start With Seeds
Let’s begin with “why.” Starting a garden from seeds offers a host of benefits. Here are just a few:
- You will spend less money. Starting a garden from seeds is significantly less expensive in materials costs compared to purchasing plants.
- You get to choose from more species and varieties of seeds. Many plants are simply not available unless you purchase or harvest seeds.
- You promote genetic diversity by planting seeds. This leads to stronger, more robust plants in your garden. If you save seeds from the best plants in your own garden each season and replant the following year. You will improve the genetics of the seed lineage to perform better in your specific garden.
- Your garden will be healthier. Plants grown from directly-sown seeds do not suffer from transplant shock.
- You get more flexibility to suit your gardening needs. Either sow seeds directly in the garden space where they will grow to maturity or start them in a “nursery” location where they can be closely monitored until it’s time to plant them in their permanent home.
The Two Ways
If you have already purchased seeds, you have to decide: Will you start the seeds in a “nursery” (like your windowsill, or the top of your refrigerator); or will you sow them directly into the garden? Often it is a matter of personal preference, but there are situations where only one of these options will do.
For season extension, start seeds indoors. Obviously, tomatoes and peppers won’t grow in the snow. Start warm-season plants indoors up to two months before the last frost of spring. They will be well matured when the soil is warm enough to plant in the garden. You should also start indoors when you wish to have several crops in rapid succession. For example, I sow collard greens in soil blocks on August 1, while sweet potatoes are still in the garden. When I harvest sweet potatoes on September 1, the month-old collards are well-leafed and ready to plant. This strategy saves a full month of garden time, and the seedlings get to be planted at just the time when they are outgrowing their container space.
Why would you want to sow seeds directly in the garden? First of all, there are plant types that do not transplant well, such as carrots and other tap-rooted plants. Seeds like beans and corn germinate and grow so quickly that very little time is lost between crops by direct sowing. The labor savings associated with direct-sowing outweighs the time savings. Finally, there are numerous cases where seeds may be sown beneath existing crops where they are nursed along in the shadow of the canopy until the time comes to free up the space they will need by harvesting the older crop.
How To Start Seeds
Whether indoors or in the garden, you should provide the best conditions for rapid germination and quick growth thereafter. Always read the information on the seed package that tells how deeply and how far apart to plant the seeds. There will be other helpful hints as well, such as “soak the seeds in water overnight before sowing”, “sow two seeds together and thin to the strongest one,” or sow after the soil reaches a particular temperature.
During the germination period, create a humid (but not soggy) environment to further encourage germination. Indoors, place a humidity dome on a plant tray until the seeds sprout. In the garden, simply lay a sheet of plastic or board over the newly sown seeds for a few days. Doing so can reduce the germination time significantly. Check daily to see if the seeds have sprouted. Discontinue the cover when at least half of the seeds have sprouted.
This season, save yourself time and money as you enjoy the benefits of selection and plant vigor. Start your garden from seeds!