Annuals and Perennials to start indoors

>> Tuesday, February 22, 2011

For most gardeners, Spring is way too slow in getting here. That wait to get back to the soil can be almost tortuous, but there are ways to get ‘dirty’ indoors too. In fact, one of the most important and rewarding aspects of gardening is starting plants from seed.

A couple of weeks ago I posted a list of seeds I started on my back deck, right out in the cold snowy weather. This seed-starting procedure is called ‘Winter Sowing’; the concept mimics nature somewhat in that the seeds are allowed to start outside much the way nature intended. In a natural setting the seeds would be protected from the elements by fallen leaves or other debris until the soil warms enough to allow sprouting. We provide that same protection by sowing the seeds in containers that would have otherwise been set out for recycling. Placing the containers outside allows them to be ‘awakened’ naturally by the sun as the weather warms thereby eliminating the hardening off process.

The other seed-starting procedure is the time honored method of starting our garden seeds indoors which requires us to provide the necessary ‘elements’ to allow the seeds to sprout. Elements such as light, moisture, and heat. Some general tips for starting indoors:
  • When planting seeds, plant the largest seeds in the package to get the best germination rate.
  • Cover containers with plastic. Prick holes with a toothpick for ventilation. Water as directed.
  • Find a place in the kitchen where there is natural bottom heat—on top of the refrigerator or near the oven. (Move the tray if the oven is on, as it may become too hot.)
  • Seeds sprout best at temperatures of 65 to 75°F (18 to 24°C).
  • When seedlings appear, remove the plastic and move containers into bright light.
  • When the seedlings get their second pair of leaves, prepare individual pots filled with a potting mix with plenty of compost. Move the seedlings carefully to the new pots and water well. Keep pots out of direct sun for a few days.
NOTE: I don’t always have compost available so I lightly feed new sprouts with half-strength liquid fish emulsion.

Starting plants from seeds affords us a much greater variety of plant than the local nursery can provide and here is a very short list of plants that anyone can start indoors or start by winter sowing:
  • Balloon vine
  • Bloodflower
  • Browallia
  • Coleus
  • Impatiens
  • Petunia
  • Sage
  • Sweet William
  • Wishbone flower
  • Zinnia

  • Balloon flower
  • Baptisia
  • Columbine
  • Coreopsis
  • Delphinium
  • Hibiscus
  • Lobelia
  • Lupine
  • Purple coneflower
  • Statice
  • Windflower

General seed-starting tips:
  • Team up with a neighbor for starting seeds, since a packet often yields much more than you will need.
  • I use the Old Farmers Almanac Best Planting Dates for Seeds chart which is based on your frost dates and by the Moon.
  • You may have to soak, scratch, or chill seeds before planting, as directed on packet.
  • Use clean containers. Most seed catalogs offer seedling flats, peat pots, and other growing containers, but egg carton compartments make good containers, too. Be sure to poke holes in the sides near the bottom of the containers you use.
  • Label your containers now! There's nothing more frustrating than forgetting what you planted.
  • Use soilless peat moss and mix in equal parts vermiculite and perlite to hold enough water and allow oxygen to flow. Don't use potting soil.
  • Pour soilless mix into a large bucket and moisten with warm water. Fill your containers to just below the rim.
  • Plant your seeds according to your seed packet. Most seeds can simply be gently pressed into the mixture; you can use the eraser end of a pencil to push in seeds.


Anne McCormack February 24, 2011 at 5:53 PM  

This is an awesome list of tips. I'll come back to this post often. Thanks!

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