Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
January, 2008
Regional Report

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Inside a packet of seeds is the promise of a season of gardening fun and bounty.

Success With Seeds

Seeds amaze me. No matter how many times I go through the garden cycle planting and harvesting, it's always fun to ponder the fact that within these lifeless-looking seeds a garden lies waiting. Planting seeds is one of gardening's most basic activities.

I've been busy out in the greenhouse planting a spring crop of cool-season greens and starting some vegetable and flower transplants for the warm-season garden. It's great winter therapy to plant seeds. Despite the weather outside, seeds promise the arrival of spring, bountiful vegetables, and beautiful flowers. Planting seeds is an act of faith and a renewal of the hopes and dreams of any gardener.

Take a look at a packet of seeds; a plain paper wrapper with words instructing and promising results. Inside, the contents resemble small pebbles or bits of organic garden debris. Yet in each one a harvest lays waiting. You've probably heard the old adage, "Man can count the seeds in an apple but only God can count the apples in a seed." Stop and take a look at a seed the next time you are planting. Imagine seeing, smelling, and tasting the harvest that lays waiting inside.

Seeds look to the future. When we plant seeds today we set the stage for a delicious meal or a beautiful bouquet months from now. I am reminded of a small shadowbox with dried zinnias that my mother had as a wall decoration years ago. It was a gift from an aunt. Looking at those flowers now I can't help but wonder about the day my aunt held the seeds in her hands. I wonder if she could imagine that decades later they'd still be adorning a home.

Seeds are the most economical way to start a garden. If you choose varieties that are open pollinated, as opposed to hybrid varieties, you can also save your own seed for future gardening seasons. Raising and saving your own seed adds a new dimension to gardening and opens possibilities of creating your own varieties. But we'll save that topic for another time.

Some gardeners avoid seeding because it seems too difficult or because past attempts have failed. Starting plants from seeds is really not that difficult if you provide a few simple conditions for their success.

Simple Steps
Seeds need a good disease-free growing medium. While you can reuse old seed-starting mix, it may contain disease organisms that could spell death for the tender seedlings. It's best to start with fresh, sterile mix made for seed starting. These mixes are fine textured so small seeds can be planted at the proper depth.

Planting depth is important. Some seeds need light to germinate and should be left on the surface. Read the seed packet for instructions on how deep to plant the seeds. As a general rule of thumb, plant seeds at a depth that's two to four times their width.

Seeds need adequate moisture. Soggy conditions bring on root and stem rots. However, if the seedlings dry out during the germination process, even briefly, they will die. When I can't be around to keep a flat of seeds moist throughout the day, I place the flat in a clear dry cleaners bag to hold in moisture until they sprout. Then I remove the bag to allow for good air circulation around the seedlings. Special seeding trays with clear plastic covers are available at garden centers. They work great!

Seedlings need good light. Sunlight is best but direct sun is not required. If you can't give them sunlight, provide very bright fluorescent light. I use two 4-foot shop fixtures each with one cool-white and one warm-white fluorescent tube. These are suspended about 2 to 4 inches above the growing seedlings by chains that allow me to adjust the height as the plants grow. A plug-in timer is set to run 14 to 16 hours a day, which is adequate light.

Finally, seedlings need nutrition. Once they get their first true leaves, begin to fertilize them with a very dilute, soluble plant food at the low "constant feed" label rate, or a seaweed and fish emulsion solution.

Take advantage of this wonderful time of year and gather some seeds, growing mix, and planting trays. Hold some seeds in your hand and imagine your best garden ever. It's all there in the seeds!

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