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Plant names starting with:
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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
medium should be clean and sterile to prevent damping off, I try to use
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
Page on cold treating
seeds: sent out with
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.
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.
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
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.