Part 2: Sowing Seeds
Gather all your supplies and find a place to work. It's time to get down and dirty!
Before you begin it is important to learn the germination needs of your seeds before you start planting your seeds. Some seeds may need stratification before planting. This is especially important for most hardy annuals.
Stratification is a process of pre-treating seeds in order to simulate natural conditions that seeds would experience in the soil over winter. Stratifying seeds helps the seed "break dormancy" and initiate the germination process. Stratification is especially important when the seed is being propagated in a greenhouse setting or in a way/schedule that is not aligned with the natural germination cycle.
Dry stratification is a seed pre-treatment in which the seed is subjected to cold temperatures of 32˚F or lower, for a period of a month or longer. You can accomplish this by putting your seed pack in your freezer for a period of time.
Moist stratification is a process where the seed is mixed with moistened inert material (we often use a damp paper towel) and stored in the refrigerator/freezer for ten days to three months. This mimics natures “moist stratification” and signals to the seed that it is time to germinate when the soil warms up in spring.
Sowing Seeds Step-By-Step
Step 1: MOISTEN SOIL WITH WATER
The soil should be damp, but not dripping with water. Grab a handful and squeeze it, it should resemble a “wrung-out sponge”
Step 2: FILL TRAYS WITH SOIL
Fill seed trays/pots to the top. Gently tap the tray onto the table to settle soil and remove air pockets.
Step 3: PLANT SEEDS
Place 1-2 seeds per cell/pot. A pencil or popsicle stick comes in handy to help make a small indentation in the soil, to plant the seed. Always refer to your seed packet for planting depth but a good rule of thumb is to place the seed at a depth twice the size of the seed. This mean that some of the smallest seeds will just be planted on the surface and lightly dusted with soil or vermiculite. It is important to note if the seed needs light, or darkness to germinate. Some seeds, such as phlox, will need to be planted and put in dark conditions until they germinate.
Step 4. LABEL
Label the tray/pot with the variety name of the seed and sowing date.
STEP 5: HEAT
Place trays/pots into a drip tray and cover with a plastic dome (if using). This helps to maintain soil moisture. Saran wrap is also a suitable cover - just make sure it is not touching the soil which could inhibit successful germination.
If you have access to a heat mat, placing the tray on a heat mat set to 60°F. This temperature is ideal for most hardy annuals, but always refer to seed packet. Otherwise, place them in a warm area in your house.
STEP 6. WATERING
Always maintain moisture until the seeds germinate. The best watering methods are to bottom water or mist with spray bottle to prevent dispersing seeds.
Bottom watering is the process of filling a dish and placing the trays in the dish to soak up water from the bottom. Remove the trays and let the remaining water drain when the top of the soil in the tray appears damp. You do not want the trays to sit in water as this may promote bacterial growth. Once seedlings have their first set of true leaves, you can overhead water.
Step 7: LIGHT
Once seedlings emerge, remove plastic dome/saran wrap (if using) and move tray to a bright area of the house (a south facing window), a greenhouse, or under grow lights. If using grow lights, be sure to have the lights at the appropriate distance from the seedling ( ~ 4 in.). Watch for legginess: if plant is stretching, it needs additional light.
Stay tuned for our blog on common seed starting problems and solutions.
Did you know that getting your hands dirty in the garden can increase serotonin – the hormone that boost mood and strengthens the immune system? Saweeeet! Now go get down and dirty and plant some seeds!!
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