Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
March, 2007
Regional Report

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Direct seeding out in the garden is a fun and economical way to grow flowers and vegetables.

Starting Seeds in the Garden

One of the most basic elements of gardening is planting seeds. Perhaps you have had mixed results with direct seeding, doing well with some flowers or vegetables but not others. Maybe you're a new gardener and are anxious to give it a try.

Starting seeds out in the garden is really not that difficult. Seeds need three primary things to thrive: proper temperature, sunlight, and moisture. Get those right and you're well on your way to a great harvest. Here are a few more tips to help you get off to a successful start.

Start With Good Seed. Seed doesn't retain its viability forever. In fact, some species last only a year or so before they begin to decline. Choose fresh seed. There is a date on the package indicating the year it's best planted.

Prepare the Seed Bed. Seeds germinate best in a well-prepared soil. Break up or rake away any clods and mix in a little finely screened compost. The goal is to build a fine-textured surface so you can maintain good seed-to-soil contact and uniform planting depth. If drainage is at all in question, build up a raised planting bed before preparing the soil surface.

Water Before Planting. The most important watering a new planting will get is the one before seeds are planted. This wets the soil deeply and provides a bank account of moisture that will "wick" toward the surface to maintain moist conditions around the germinating seeds and growing seedlings.

Plant at the Proper Depth. Seeds need to be planted at the proper depth. Too shallow and they are likely to dry out and will be more subject to soil temperature fluctuations. Too deep and they may not be able to push up through the soil to the surface. Use your finger, a hoe handle, or the edge of a board to create a shallow trench in which to place the seeds.

For some crops such as leafy greens, it also works fine to scatter the seeds on the surface and then lightly rake them into the soil unless they need to light for germination. If in doubt, consult the seed packet for such information.

I like to use a finely screened compost to cover seeds. This is especially helpful for small seeds. Compost doesn't tend to crust and it's easy for the seedlings to push up through it even if you plant a little deeper than normal.

Firm Soil Around Seed. Seeds need good contact with the surrounding soil. It's critical to maintain adequate moisture during the germination process. By firming the soil around seeds, especially larger ones, you can insure better germination. Part of this process is also watering the seed bed well after sowing to settle the soil in around the seeds.

Maintain Moisture. Keep the soil moist but not soggy wet. Light, regular waterings are the best way to insure a good stand of seedlings. If you have a hose-end sprayer with a dial knob, look for something close to a misting setting to wet the seed bed without blasting the seeds out of the soil the way a strong spray is prone to do.

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