Links to our seed germination data base:
Plant names starting with:

Picture of some diffrent Perennial seeds.

A few simple techniques can go a long way to increase ones success starting plants from seed. A
good soil medium is the foundation for best results, it should be soft and porous,  easily wet-able and moisture
retentive. There are a number of good mediums made specifically for starting seed - they might
cost a little more than other potting mediums but the price is very much off set by the much higher
survival rate of your seedlings and young plants . A good medium is soft, pores, water retentive
and non sticking. When it comes time to transplant-out your new plants into larger pots or the
ground - the roots will disentangle from each other more readily in a good medium than a poor

Your medium should be clean and sterile to prevent damping off, I try to use new medium
when starting seeds but some times it's not possible- so a few minutes in the microwave will help
sterilize it- but be careful- if you put moist medium in the microwave it is going to stink. Your time and money is best spent with sterile new medium.

One should not use out-door  garden soil when sowing most seeds inside, the problems far out way the money saved. You can make your own medium by using a fine grade of vermiculite and very fine peat moss with some fine grade sand mixed in.
Use a  45/45/10 ratio.

Seed Sowing Medium

The picture up above is an example of one of the types of media we use. We use this mix with perlite in it for larger seeds (the white specs are the perlite) we also use a mix that has no perlite in it for very small seeds. Small seeds should be sown onto the surface and watered from the bottom.

Once you have your seed medium and seeds, its time to find the most appropriate containers for your seed starting project. The larger the pot the less likely your plants are going to dry out if you miss a watering period, a small pot will dry out much faster than a larger pot. This is the main cause of failure for most people starting plants from seeds.  I like to use 5.5 inch square pots and put them in a one gallon clear zipper bag ( picture below). Large trays work well too and fit into a large clear garbage bag but supports are needed to keep the bag off of the seedlings.  The bags or domes help maintian a high humidity eviroment, which promote quicker germination but they are not needed to start seeds.  With out them, your seeds will still germinate but the germinations will be spread out over a longer period of time.

Once your seedlings germinate they can stay in the bag for a few weeks, but you should open the bags and let the pots "breath" and dry out a little so that the plants become accustomed to normal air humidity.

The plastic bag does a very good job of keeping the humidity high and the medium moist. A one gallon bag works perfect for this size pot, or you can use a one gallon pot and a three gallon bag. For most types of seeds the 5.5 inch pot works well for 25 to 100 seedlings. To best use the plastic bag technique its important to have the appropriate amount of dampness to the medium. If done right, you do not need to water your plants for many weeks after the seeds are sown, but one must be careful not to use to much water or put the bags in direct hot sun light - bright light is good but provide some shading during the afternoon. Under intense sun light the plants will cook in the bag. (If you are using a bright window- check the bags to make sure they are not over heating, once the seeds germinate open the bags to allow the heat to escape,  Temperatures higher than 70-85F  can kill the seeds or cause them to rot.).

Above is a picture of some Aquilegia seedlings - in the plastic bags you can expect to have greater rates of seed germination and quicker  germination, for some seeds it will cut the germination time in half.

You do not want to sow your seeds onto a dry medium, the seed medium should already be moist before you sow your seeds. It also is not a good idea to fill your pots with dry medium and then water the pots - the medium settles and becomes lumpy and water logged. I use a five gallon pale like the one pictured below and pre moisten the seed medium with water and mix it very well with a large fork or spoon. Make sure to break up all clumps and just add enough water to make the medium moist to the touch, when you squeeze it in your hand it should leave your hand moist but the medium should not become a hard ball or "bleed" out a lot of water.

Now that our medium is moistened and well mixed, its time to fill the pots and sow the seeds. Since I start so many different plants from seed I make a label using a six inch long garden tag and a permanent garden marking pen. The labels last for many years and when its time to set the plants out into the ground the tag goes with them, so in the future I know what I have planted.

The tag at the bottom has been in the ground nine years and has suffered from the effects of the sun and winter cold- but I can still read it.

A number of perennial seeds need some pretreatment before they should be sown, we will talk about that later on a different page.

Seed Pretreatment Page

Fill your pots to the top with the seed medium and then very lightly smooth the medium out and lightly tap it down to form a flat surface. The seeds should be scattered evenly over the pot. Once the seeds are sown onto the surface, use your fingers to sprinkle some water over the pots, do this by dipping your fingers in a glass or bucket of water and dabbling the water over the medium or use a misting bottle. You want the surface good and damp but not soaking wet.   Do not poor water onto the pot- this fill wash away the seeds and form a hole.

Most seeds that I sow I leave at the surface until they start to germinate at which point I add a thin layer of medium on top of the germinating seeds, if the seeds are real small I forgo the addition of medium.  Larger seeds can be covered with a 1/5 of an inch of medium. The majority of seeds will germinate better with exposure to light (some need darkness, but this should be indicated on the seed packet). Time to slip your pot into the plastic bag and find the right place to keep it until the seeds germinate.


After your seeds have germinated and the seedlings are a few weeks old, its time to unbag them. Leave the pot in the bag- it can be used as a handy water reservoir. When you water, poor the water down the side of the bag and use only enough water to wet the soil, the pots should absorb all the water with in an hour or less. Allow the tops of the pots to dry a little before you water again. If you water to much and keep the soil water-logged the roots will begin to rot, roots need oxygen to live and water logging the soil will rob the roots of their ability to exchange gasses with the soil.

Now that your seedlings have a leaf or two its time to give them some fertilizer ,which will give them a boost in their growing, its best to use a water soluble fertilizer with some trace elements in it, use 1/4 the recommended amount on the box label. I am using Miracle-Grow for Roses right now with very good results, it is a 18-24-16 fertilizer with Copper, Iron, Manganese and Zinc. I just put a few grains in each cup of water. 

look below! Our plants are very happy with the fertilizer and after only a few weeks they are large and bushy ( this is not the Aquilegia) and ready for transplanting out into larger pots or the ground.

This brings up a good question. When should I start my seed?

If you have good indoor light you can start your seeds in side, but what makes for good light?
A nice bright window with 6 hours of exposure to the sun works, or a florescent hood with 40 watt bulbs,  generally seedlings will need light right away after they germinate and should receive a minimum of 8 hours of good light, with many plants needing at least 12 hours.  For some of the plants I start inside I use 24 hours of light  under the florescent hoods and when they become large they are moved to a bright window sill or put under the "flood" lights which are on for 15 hours a day.
The best light for growing seedlings is produced from the bright white florescent bulbs, the plant grow bulbs are a waist of money and do not put out as much light., they are meant to be used for plants that are grown inside all the time.  Save your money and do your plants the best by using the cheep white bulbs.

Lighting is the next step were many people have problems, more is better, but be watchful that your medium does not dry out, or your seedlings cook under to much heat.
Its no fun to have a nice pot of prized seedlings not make it because they became long and thin do to a lack of adequate light.

I start about 1/3 of my seeds in side and 2/3's out side. Its  good to know how fast your seedlings are going to grow and how much room you will have to keep them in good light.  One of my biggest failings in raise seedlings is starting to many to so,  and not having any place or the time to take care of them and they all suffer. Slow growing plants can be started 10 weeks or more before its time to put them out side,  plants should not be put outside if grown inside until the danger of frost is gone.
For faster growing plants that are going to take up a lot of room- you might want to wait until four weeks before they can be put outside to sow them.  

When it is time to put your plants out side- find a bright but shaded location to keep your pots for a  week, after the week is done move them to more sun.  The larger you allow most of your perennials to grow in the pots the better results you will have when its time to plant them into the ground.  If you have the space, planting them into pots and growing them out for a while works very well,  you can use small single pots and plant one plant in each pot or do what I do and use a larger pot and
plant 4 to 8 plants per pot and grow them out together.

When moving your plants outside- avoid  too much sun at first, also avoid frost and drought.  You can leave the pots in the plastic bags and put water in the bottom of the bags- but make sure that the bags open and not exposed to direct sun at first..  I move my seedlings at first under a large tree on the shaded side of my house.  They stay there for a week or two and then are moved to more sun every week or so.
I let my seedlings grow large in their growing pots before I transplant, I find it's better to lose a few plants do to crowding than to move real small seedlings into the ground were they are least likely to get good care from me or be overwhelmed by weeds and or dry out under the sun.

Salvia raised from seeds

Page on cold treating seeds: sent out with seed orders.

Back to our home page.