Starting Seeds

moonwolf_gwJanuary 18, 2010

Hi everyone,

I'm new to this forum and I have a couple questions to ask.

I bought some cobaea scandens to try in the garden next year. I planted some in a pot a few months ago (Nov.) and they never sprouted. I got both kinds from Summer Hill Seeds. Is there a trick into getting them to sprout? Should I soak them overnight before planting?

I am not new to annuals as mom and I plant a few every year. She loves sunflowers and snapdragons. I love flowering vines, annual or perennial! But I have to say morning glories and moonflowers top my list for annual vines (hopefully cup and saucer too!). What's your favorite annual vine?

Brad AKA Moonwolf

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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

You need to give us a bit more information. What kind of soil did you use? Did you put the pot inside, outside, in the fridge? Did you cover the pot with plastic so the seeds would stay moist? My propagation book says the seeds should be sown indoors at 70 to 75 degrees. They take 14-30 days to germinate.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2010 at 3:39PM
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I used Miracle-Gro Moisture Control potting soil. I put the pot in bright indirect light in a warm room indoors. I didn't cover it with plastic ( I don't know why I didn't think of it), although if I try it again, I'll be sure to use plastic.

14-30 days? On the seed packets they say anywhere from 10-14 days! I guess they're worth the wait though. I'll have to remember this when I start them in spring. Thanks Donna!

Brad AKA Moonwolf

    Bookmark   January 19, 2010 at 3:48PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Do you have a propagation system set up? Seeds will germinate quickly if the soil temperature is nice and toasty (more so than the air temp.), but will quickly rebel if forced to keep growing under those conditions. You have started them too soon, too, I think.

My best germination experiences occur in a cool (low 60's) room, with extra heat provided to the soil in the form of heat mats or cables. Once germination has occurred, I provide plenty of artificial light, unless I was growing in a greenhouse.

Seedling grown in a cooler room (with the heat mats turned off) are far more robust, stockier, slower to elongate, and much less prone to diseases.

I've not grown this plant, but according to some web sites, seed scarification is helpful. Others say no. If it were me, I'd file some of the seed coat off so that water can absorb more quickly.

Lots of people have trouble with MiracleGro products. They are just too peaty, difficult to water properly, etc. I'd suggest that you switch to something else (no moisture control for one thing) the next time. What can happen is that the seeds can either rot in the cool, moist soil....or desiccate because the soil is too dry.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2010 at 4:33PM
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No I don't have a system set up. I really don't have the room. I waited for two weeks after I planted them then I just sat the pot outside.

In the spring, I'll hopefully be getting a mini-greenhouse from Charley's Greenhouse I'll provide the link. So I can start all my flower seeds then.

Brad AKA Moonwolf

Here is a link that might be useful: Mini-Greenhouse

    Bookmark   January 19, 2010 at 5:17PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

first.. where did you get fresh seed in nov??? what is the use by date on the package..

second.. in z6 .. a warm toasty room during the day.. can be freezing at night.. especially if your furnace kicks down .. ergo the suggestion of a heat mat underneath.. timed to go on at night at a min ...

third.. i would never use potting media with fert .. though i doubt that had any impact on the seeds .. i prefer to use diluted water sol fert ... so i am in charge of fert.. rather than the bag ...

lack of germination is either ... IMHO ... cold soil ... or old seed ...

one good place for sprouting seeds .. in the frozen north.. is the top of the fridge.. pumps out constant heat like you wouldnt believe ...

proper light intensity will be the next issue.. once they sprout ....

might be time to start over ... i wouldnt have a lot of faith left in those old seeds ....


    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 10:58AM
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Old fridges get warm on top. New fridges don't. Mine is as cool on top as it is on the sides.

I leave my heat mat on day and night. It takes so little energy you can do that. Room temperature is not the same as soil temperature. The coldest place in your house at night is in front of the windows.

Before I had my heat mat I germinated my seeds on a cake rack over the hot air register.

moonwolf: use your imagination and find a warm place to germinate your seeds. They don't have to be in the window until they are up.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2010 at 8:00AM
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kqcrna(z6 SW Oh)

I use a cheap heat mat too. But I've also heard of folks using the top of the dryer or water heater.


    Bookmark   January 24, 2010 at 9:11AM
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Thank you everyone for your ideas and help!

Ken, I ordered them from Summer Hill Seeds and they seemed to be fine. I never grew them before and I've been wanting to try them.

Karen, I may try your idea for on top of the dryer. Ours is by the back door with a "window" in it with blinds over it. Will this work? How soon can I plant them? March?

When I planted them before, I only used two seeds, I don't know if the batches are bad are not. There's no experation date on the packages (no pictures of the flowers on them either), just a description.

Brad AKA Moonwolf

I see seeds for sale already at some of the stores around here. Anyone buy their seeds yet?

    Bookmark   January 31, 2010 at 3:20PM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

moonwolf, here are some basics on seed starting. This isn't short, but I am trying to answer the questions that I had when I was beginning to work with seeds.

First, find out when your last frost date is. You can get this from google or by calling your local agricultural extension office. Then count back six to eight weeks and that's when you should plant your seeds. Don't be in a great hurry. Plants are much happier when they can get outside.

Don't use great big pots. If you have some leftover cell packs from buying flowers in the past, clean them up and dip them in a solution of bleach and water. Small yogurt cups make good seed starters too. Be sure to punch a hole in the bottom for drainage.

Then fill them with a good potting soil mix that does not contain moisture control (crystals, or whatever) and does not contain fertilizer. Most books will tell you to use a seed starting mix, but my experience has been that they dry out VERY fast and there's no room for error. I have excellent results with Miracle Grow potting soil that does not have moisture control or fertilizer in it.

Sow your seeds on top of the soil. I usually put two seeds per cell pack, especially if it's a new seed to me. That way you have a bit of insurance. Then press the seed and soil down into the pot. I do this by taking another six pack and using it as a "presser". You should have about a half inch of space between the soil surface and the top of the pot. This will make watering easier.

Then add a light dusting of more soil over the seed to just cover. If, by chance, the seeds are large, then push them a bit deeper into the soil and cover with a bit more soil.

Next, water them extremely well. You want the soil to be saturated. I like to use the sprayer on my sink for this purpose. I turn it to as low a setting as I can get without losing the spray. If you have to use a can, trickle the water slowly so you don't wash the seeds out of the soil.

NOW, let the pots drain. Give them plenty of time so that there is no more water seeping out the bottoms. Half an hour is usually just about right. To recap, you want the soil mix to be thoroughly moistened with no dry pockets, BUT you do not want any excess water in it.

Enclose your pots in plastic somehow. I use clear Rubbermaid storage boxes. They are the perfect size for one nursery flat. Turn the boxes upside down so that the plants are sitting in the lid and are covered by the box. You can also use Ziplock bags, Coke bottles with the bottoms cut out, milk jugs, etc. Whatever you use, leave just a bit of open space. I put a pencil between the top and bottom of the container, or you can leave the lid off the coke/milk bottles, etc. You just want a bit of air to be able to move inside.

Now put your mini greenhouses somewhere warm. I have a seed mat too, and they are great. But, if you get creative, you should be able to find a place in your house that's warm enough. Remember, heat rises. Even if the fridge doesn't warm up, it's still near the ceiling where warm air collects. Ditto for the water heater. My brother sets his seed trays on top of rope lights for warmth. (Be VERY sure they don't get wet.) Ideally, the seeds should be in light too, but if you can't swing warmth and light, go for warmth. In that case, watch them very carefully, and as soon as the seeds sprout, move them into light.

Just a note: the rubbermaid boxes can be stacked. I often put a stack in front of an eastern exposure window for germinating and they do fine there.

Most seeds germinate in a week, but some take much longer. Have faith and be patient. When they come up, they need as much light as you can give them and, as said above, somewhat cooler temperatures. I germinate my seeds upstairs in the heated part of the house (68 to 75 degrees) and then move them to my basement (55 to 70 degrees) under flourescent lights. If you have no source of light and/or you have no southern exposure windows, wait as late as possible to germinate your seeds so that they don't have to live inside for very long. I do have lights and I still wait for fast growing things like zinnias. Once they get into the sunlight, they catch up in a hurry.

Once the seeds have their first set of true leaves (the first two that sprout are not them), you can move them out of their "greenhouses" and begin to give them some fertilizer: HALF strength or even third strength. Use liquid fertilizer. A great one is Fish Emulsion IF you can stand the smell. It's fine in my basement but I sure don't want it in my house. :) I have used a soluble orchid food with good results too.

Watch your seedlings. As a rule, I only water them once a week, but if the soil dries out more quickly, obviously water more. The point is, don't water them unless the soil is nearly dry. Fertilize every other week.

Remember those two seeds? If they both come up, at some point, you may want to get rid of one to make room for the other to grow a good root system. Don't pull it out, cut the stem off at ground level. By the way, it pays to start more plants than you think you'll need. Especially when you're new at this, things happen and some plants will die. If you have extra, people are always glad for the gift.

If you do not have a good light source inside, move your seedlings outside as soon as possible. Be sure to harden them off before leaving them in the sun all day long. I try my best to watch for a few days of overcast, cloudy weather. I move the trays into the shade the first day and then into the cloudy "full sun" thereafter. In two or three days they are able to withstand whatever.

If you take them out early, there's the chance of frost, of course. Keep your "greenhouse" covers handy and cover your seedlings on any night that seems threatening. If a freeze is predicted, take them inside. But, put them back outside as soon as the temperature goes back up, so you don't have to harden them off again.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2010 at 2:49PM
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Thank you, Donna for the info! I think there are some old flats around here somewhere that I could start them in when it's time for spring planting. I'll look up the last frost date for my zone so I'll know when to start my seeds.
Wish me luck!

Brad AKA Moonwolf

    Bookmark   February 2, 2010 at 9:31PM
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I think I found something to start my seeds in. A Harriet Carter catalog came in the mail today and it featured a heated seed starter greenhouse. I'll provide the link so you can see it. Let me know what you think.

Brad AKA Moonwolf

Here is a link that might be useful: Tabletop Seed Starter GH

    Bookmark   February 3, 2010 at 2:23PM
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That will work...but just so you know, I don't think that it is actually "heated". The description is kinda misleading, it just has vents that control the environment inside the dome. Meaning-the dome will gain heat when the sun hits it just like a large greenhouse does, the vents allow you to kinda cool it off if it gets too hot and also allow for some (but not much) air circulation.

I think that there are cheaper ways to make this on your own, like using old plastic containers with lids, or to just buy the normal seedling flats that come with clear plastic domes. Like Donna said, if you have old cell packs laying around you can use them, and a clear plastic covering. I use a big sheet of clear painters painters drop cloth, available at hardware stores, home depot, etc.. You can cut the plastic to size and its pretty inexpensive.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cell Trays

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 7:14AM
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pippi21(Z7 Silver Spring, Md.) posted some very sound advice to Brad and others. Now I have a question for you. We have learned that you need to have at least 3-4 inches of potting mix in our containers/jug/liter bottles or etc. for WS purposes, right?
These cell packs aren't even 3 inches deep, isn't that taking a risk that the plants will not have room to grow in that space? You also mentioned and I have seen this same advice posted by other veteran mentioned about planting maybe 2 seeds per cell and when both sprout, you cut one back to the ground, leaving the other to grow. Why can't you take the second sprout and plant into another cell or pot by itself or even a styrofoam coffee cup or cold drink cup? This is my first year to try WS and I certainly didn't take the time to count seeds, so I guess I'll have a lot of HOS to plant out. It takes me too long for the planting process because I have to prepare the containers, cut the ID tag for inside, record on paper what seeds I have planted and date, water the contents of the container, tape the container shut, write on outside with paint pen the name of seed/plant. And I am supposed to count the number of seeds I plant in a container? Don't think so..I'm not that frugle. Then I have to find out if I cover or don't cover, or lightly cover. So much to remember to do when it is your first time..don't have time to worry about how many seeds I have sown in each container.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2010 at 9:47PM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

pippi21 your post about planting seeds being too much work got my attention. Last Tuesday four of us from the Men's Garden Club of Santa Rosa helping the agriculture teacher of a local high school, in two hours, with 17 students, planted 1500 tomato seeds. We used cell packs, reused every year. We planted at least 30 varieties. Keeping the cells properly labeled with this many spirited kids, took careful planning! Two seeds per cell was not a problem for the kids. If you have ever used plug grown plants you know they do quite well with the amount of soil needed to fill a thimble. If you try and divide the two seedlings, almost always the remaining seedling will have had its roots compromised causing a check in its growth. Donna did a thorough job, I think with her explanation. Al

    Bookmark   February 27, 2010 at 8:16AM
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pippi21(Z7 Silver Spring, Md.)

Yes, I agree Donna did a fantastic job with her tips on planting seeds. I think the secret is also being organized and it speeds up the process I'm sure, but for a first time wintersower, I think trying to remember all the steps is a bit overwhelming. Some veteran WS have written that they do all their cutting of seed labels ahead of time, even as early as summertime, and that way you don't have to stop and cut and prepare a label at same time of each planting. Great advice. I see where some Wintersowers number their jugs/containers on outside instead of writing the entire name of the plant out, thus the # corresponds with their written record they keep but they do make a written label for the inside of the container. I may try that next year. I think everybody learns some way of streamlining the process after the first year doing WS to make the second year's preparation go faster and more efficiently. I print off great post like Donna's and am saving them in a 3 ring binder so that I can refer to them when the need arises. How do you count out the small, fine seeds? Do you put your seeds in your hand, use a piece of folded paper or cardstock, or have one of those plastic seed counters that dispurse the seeds? I'm always up to reading tips from experienced gardeners. I know a lot about plants/flowers but I have always purchased starter plants from the garden centers before, not growing them myself from seed, so this is definately going to be a new experience and challenge.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2010 at 8:49AM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

Anything smaller than a poppy seed is a problem for both my coordination and my vision. Once you have dumped 500 petunia seeds in a pot, picking them back up is impossible. Bigger than poppy seeds I put them in the palm of my left hand and try to pick them up one at a time with the fingers of my right hand. Al

    Bookmark   February 27, 2010 at 10:33PM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

Re: Small and/or fine seeds: Try the needle trick.

Get yourself a sewing needle (yes, you really use a needle). Put the seeds in the palm of one hand, with the other hand pick up a tiny bit of *wet* sowing medium with the tip of the needle (I normally just stick the needle into the top of a moistened Jiffy pellet, since that's what I normally use as medium). Then gently touch the needle tip to a seed - the wet medium on the end of the needle sticks to the seed, picking it up for you. Then gently place on the sowing medium. Even works with those teeny tiny unpelleted petunia seeds.

Very easy, quick, and I'm sure you all have a sewing needle or safety pin you can open up lying around somewhere :0)

    Bookmark   March 1, 2010 at 1:01AM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

Hi, pippi
We must be kindred spirits. You ask the kind of questions I tend to ask! :)
Tiny seeds are a trick, without a doubt. This is partly why I do my seed starting a bit at a time throughout the winter. I started my cool season annuals and peppers in January, so they are ready to go into the ground in very early spring. (Now, if it would just stop raining!)

Then I started perennial seeds in Early FEbruary, and finally started tomatoes, eggplants and warm season annuals just last week. This way, I don't run out of patience with doling out the seeds.

There's a reason I am so careful with the seed. I have very large gardens and like to plant in sweeps of color. Therefore, I want alot of plants of a kind. Seed is not cheap, as you know, and in recent years it's become common for packets to have fewer than 30 (even 10!) seeds. Therefore, I want every single one of them to germinate if possible. Thus, the penny-pinching sowing...Some seeds, look best in bunches, lobelia, for instance, so those go into the cells a pinch at a time. And then some are simply too small to plant individually, so I try to sow "thinly" whatever that means: nicotiana, for instance.

As Al said, pulling seedlings can damage the roots of the one you want to nurture, thus the cutting or pinching out to thin. As you gain more experience with seeds you will learn which ones germinate easily and will come to plant only one seed to the cell of those. (tomatoes, for example.)
I love mxk's idea of a needle. I am going to try that! (Don't you just love gardenweb?)

Re: soil depth in cell packs. You have a good point up to a point. :) I encourage you to pay attention when you are shopping at your local garden center. If they start plants in cells, you can too, as long as you don't leave the plants in them any longer than necessary. That being said, I tend to start perennials in quart size containers so that they have more room for their roots. Typically, I sow several seeds to the quart and just tear the plants apart when I set them in the ground. Perennial roots are far more tolerant of disturbance than annuals are (which is another reason to just pinch out an extra annual seedling).

Seed starting can be somewhat time consuming. I tend to sow whole flats of a kind, or at least an entire six pack of a kind. Then I just put one label per flat or six pack. When starting a bunch of seeds, I work a flat at a time: filling with soil, sowing, pressing in, then watering and setting it aside. By the time the next flat is ready to water, the first one has done a good bit of draining. But still, yes, it is time-consuming. I started 8 to 10 flats of seeds last Monday and that took the better part of the morning by the time I put them in their sweat boxes and got them positioned in the appropriate places in the house. Fortunately, thereafter, it's just a matter of watering once a week until they go into the ground. It's still a great savings of money for the time, I think, and you have the added advantage of a superior selection of plants.

As far as remembering....that's why I made the post into a list. Use it as a check list as you work so you don't skip steps. With time, it'll be second nature.

Good luck! :)

    Bookmark   March 1, 2010 at 8:13PM
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