Sunday, April 10, 2011

Seed Starting Secrets Part II: Your Questions, Answered!

So I'm sort of cheating for this post, since I copied these questions from the comments on my last post. Being the overly verbose person that I am, I figured by the time I finished answering them it would be blog-length anyways.

I didn't ask my friend from Minnesota if I could base a post around her questions, so hopefully she doesn't mind! I thought they were good questions that other people might want to read about as well. Here's what I've found in the past that's worked for me; hopefully it will work for all of you guys too.

Q: I'm bottom watering, just putting some water on the bottom of those spinach containers for the plants to suck up. Question there: Should I just keep half an inch or so of water down there at all times, or only when needed? Is there a chance that they'll get root rot or anything? 

A: In my humble yet accurate opinion, I would only put water down there when needed. Root rot is a definite possibility, and often much harder to correct than a plant that wilted a little.

I bottom water a lot of my seedlings too, but generally not until after the seeds have germinated. I found that a lot of the seeds that were right on the soil surface weren't staying very moist when watered from the bottom. So I mist lightly every day or two, just enough to wet the seeds and the top of the soil down a little bit. Once things germinate and there are some roots present I switch to bottom watering.

Q: I planted things about 10 days ago. We have a short growing season like you do (yes, Tundra Monkey, I tell people that I live in the tundra, too!). Do I have any hope of seeing anything bloom this year? And should I be seeing anything yet? (I'm not.)

A: It depends. (This is my answer to almost every gardening question, but it's true!)

If you planted annual seeds, they'll probably bloom for you this year. If it's a species that needs a little more time to mature, you may see the blooms closer to late summer.

If you planted perennial seeds, you probably won't see blooms this year. Many perennials don't bloom the first year anyway, which is why a lot of gardeners get them from nurseries unless they are cheap like me. However, there are some perennials that bloom fairly quickly, so you never know.

And I don't think you're starting things as late as you think you are. If it were July, yeah, that's a little late. But I believe you're still sort of thawing up down there, aren't ya? What's the official frost-free planting date in your area?

As for wondering when your seeds will germinate, your best bet is to look at the seed packet. They usually list the days to germination on the back. I've had some seeds germinate after two days (lupine,) and others after two months (thalictrum.) Perennials tend to take longer, but not always. Don't give up hope yet! Have faith in those little guys! 

Q: I'm planting everything in the 4" pots. But due to space, I decided I needed to economize. I put four little divots in each 4" pot. Was that wrong of me? I just don't have enough space or containerage for all the seedlings I want to grow.

A: You'll be fine. I tend to do the same thing if I don't know how fast they're gonna grow or what my germination rate is going to be, and then I just separate them later on. A lot of people will just sprinkle seeds in a big tray of soil and then transplant everything to individual pots once the seedlings have a couple leaves. Because I am lazy I like to minimize my transplanting, so I too struggle with the space issue. Here's the summery of what works for me so far:

Start in cell packs: smaller annual flowers like pansies, marigolds, sweet alyssum, impatiens, english daisies, and lobelia, veggies like lettuces, leeks, broccoli, cabbage, and kale, and some perennials that are really slow to take off like primulas, columbine, and dianthus.

Start in 3-4" pots: tomatoes, squashes, herbs, celery, nasturtiums, wave-type petunias (those suckers get big fast,) most perennials, and things that don't like being transplanted like lupine, zucchini, and cobaea vine. Some of these things, particularly the perennials and tomatoes, I will pot up to gallon-sized pots later on if needed. 

Q: I planted sedum. And then I read on the package that they may not germinate for 1-2 years?! What the! Seriously? Should I even hope for anything there? Obviously not doing those again...

A: This question totally made me laugh out loud, because I've been there! We have a native chocolate lily up here that is the same way. I always read seed packets thoroughly nowadays before I buy them. While I like a challenge, two years is a little ridiculous to me, especially considering that sedums are insanely easy to propagate by cuttings. (Hmmm. There may be a post on this in the future...) Personally, I'd probably just plant something else in those same pots and forget about the sedum. But if you have the patience, go for it!

Q: I've also used some seeds that are a year or two old. I've stored them in a washed and dried, large yogurt container, in a cool, dry, dark place. When do seeds go "bad"? At what point should I get rid of things?

A: Sounds like you are storing them well, so they'll probably germinate for you. (I stick mine in glass jars in the fridge, in case you were wondering.) While every species is different, many seeds will last you a few years. I have lettuce seeds I bought five years ago that still sprout reliably. Peas, on the other hand, tend to germinate poorly for me after a year or two so I buy them fresh every spring.

See this other lovely blog for a great seed viability chart:

So that's the best I can do for ya. I hope it helps! Since so much of gardening is trial and error, don't get too discouraged if something doesn't work out. Soon enough you'll be answering similar questions with the little tricks you've discovered along the way.

Anyone out there have any additional words of wisdom for my friend in Minnesota? Please feel free to share!

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