stupid questions about starting herbs from seed

alingMarch 22, 2009

I am pretty new to gardening and am trying to expand and explore this wonderful new hobby of mine, but need some advice...

I am starting some vegetables and herbs from seed (indoors) and need some clarification on spacing. Due to the herb seeds being EXTREMELY TINY, I sowed them a little too thick in the peat pellet (Oregano especially). I now have TONS of super tiny little oregano sprouts growing in one tiny little cell, Does it really just take one of these to make a big bushy plant? and what about chives??? the packet says to thin to one plant every 6 inches... I don't want ONE chive, I want a lot of them together... do they multiply underground or something? I thought they were sown heavily... like grass seed?????

I know that these questions probably sound really stupid to most of you, but I guess I just have these pictures of herb gardens in my head and these seed packets don't justify them for me. Can you grow many different herbs in one container like in my pictures?

If you tell me that I really truly only need one teeny tiny seed for each herb (chives, cilantro, basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, dill and parsley) to make big bushy plants I will believe you, I just need some reassurance I guess...

Thanks for your help (and for not laughing),


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Sorry, but I did laugh because I know exactly what you mean. I am pretty new to herb gardening also. I thought the same things you did. My experience has been very interesting. I am using the Burpee Seed Starting system and I also put a lot of the teeny tiny seeds in each little cell. I have had great success with everything sprouting and growing but I think a lot of it gets stunted. I have done great with basil. I have around 6 or 7 sprouts per cell. I have already transplanted some of mine and it is beginning to get pretty big. I am waiting to transplant the rest a little later. My chives didn't do the greatest. They got very tall but were very small. I am going to wait and plant them outside once the temps are a little warmer. Cilantro is kind of the same as chives for me. My dill is doing great also. Put about 2 to 3 seeds per cell. Oregano I am also waiting to plant outside. I put a lot of seeds in each cell and it reach a certain point and stopped growing. It also seems to me that it would be a little difficult to transplant. That is just my opinion. Rosemary, I have a lot of small rosemary's growing now but have read up on it and been told that it will take a few years for it to realy produce. I am going to keep it and try to get it to grow but I am also going to buy one that is already big so that I can have some this year. I am also going to try to root a clipping of it. This is what a lot of people say to do with rosemary. I probably haven't really helped you but this has been my experience so far.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2009 at 11:23AM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

Some seed suppliers will 'pelletize' tiny seeds to make them easier to plant. Usually Oregano would be better off in single 2" pots with just 2 plants. The peat pots are not very good to use for seed starting. They hold in too much water, make the growing medium become acidic, which isn't good for most seeds. Not many commercial nursery plants are grown in peat pots and the only ones I usually see are some small shrubs or bushes. Let the oregano grow until you see the first true leaves, then pull up any that are too close or immature. If you are careful enough, you can also replant some small plants into new pots. I do this with peppers and tomates, as well as petunias and impatiens. If you allow the clump of oregano to mature, they will all be stunted as they are crowded too much. Chives do not multiply under grownd. I have wild onion similar to chives and they create 1/2 round seed balls of tiny bulbs clustered together. Regular chives have purple flower balls and then seeds. I crumble the wild onion balls and sprinkle them nearby the mature plants. Every leaf or two has a tiny pea sized onion in the soil. Garlic chives also produce seeds that tend to like being grown in clumps. They tell you to thin out chives to 6 inches apart but thats in the GARDEN not in a pot.

Growing herbs in seperate pots is very easy and is much better as some plants do well in bright sun, some in shade, some with lots of water and some need to be quite dry. Herbs are in the tens of thousands and most are tracable back to plain weeds. I do not use peat pots or peat in any of my sterile seed starting mixes. To plant a few tiny seeds, you simply pour out a few into the palm of your hand. Use an index finger to pick up a few and allow them to be sprinkled into a pot. Very tiny seeds are usually planted at the surface of the soil. Dill are bigger seeds, as are most basil seeds. Cilanro cannot be grown in the heat of outdoor summers. Please read through the many recent threads about proper growing medium, watering, lights, and seed starting in general. I have posted numerous notes in many threads here. All your questions have ben already answered in other recent threads, why be redundant..

    Bookmark   March 22, 2009 at 2:39PM
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I'm new to herb gardening, too. I started various herbs in those miniature greenhouse kits about 2 weeks ago. Some are growing. Some are not. My concern is that my kitchen patio does not get direct sun because of all the trees behind my apartment, so I have to keep moving my little plants from my patio to my front walkway to take advantage of the light. Unfortunately, the sunniest spot in my home is my children's bedroom, and I can't keep my plants in there.

Anyway, does anyone have any advice about those stackable planters like the Stack and Grow? Because of limited space in my home, I need something like that, and I really don't have a windowsill where I put plants. I was thinking of placing it next to my patio window door. Any advice?

    Bookmark   March 27, 2009 at 2:04PM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

The indoor growth of herbs will not be as robust as outside. Some herbs and grow quite well in partial shade outside. I think the stack and grow are just a shelf unit with some grow light bulbs above each shelf. Seed starting uses sterile growing medium and is a type that will allow proper airation as well as not hold on to water for too long. Coir is used as a growing medium and has worked well. The store bought 'gimmicks' are just that, expensive and mostly useless and less practical compared to trays of small pots, a good steril sed starting mix, and a clear plastic cover for the first few weeks during germination. Once the sprouts have their second set of true leaves they can ge the clear cover removed. It may be that because of overwatering or old seeds, you had a low success rate. Usually I get at least an 85% success at the first time, and the failed rest are replanted and usually grow just fine. Try this will 200+ tomato and pepper plants, petunias, portulaca, impatiens, basil, thyme, sage, and rosemary, and you will soon realize that the little mini greenhouse is fine for a couple of plants, but thats about it.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2009 at 3:57PM
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leira(6 MA)

You'll do just as well for a lot less money if you start your seeds under an inexpensive shoplight and inexpensive fluorescent bulbs. Keep the bulbs close to the seedlings, perhaps about 2 inches away.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   March 27, 2009 at 5:56PM
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It's one seed per plant. Not all seeds will germinate, but most should, given the right conditions. Sow accordingly! With tiny seeds, just a pinch of seeds scattered over a propagating tray will produce more than enough plants. As they grow, you thin them out by discarding the ones that don't look as good as the rest.

Chives are fun to grow for the beginner. Each ONE of those with a root on it will become a good-sized clump in time, and you can keep on taking pieces from the clump and creating more plants that way. Just dig up the whole or part of the clump and divide into sections or individual bulbs, and replant. So, yes, they DO multiply underground. Each new bulb that forms will send up leaves.

I never recommend growing more than one plant per container. Different plants have different growing requirements, so keep them separate. Those attractive 'herb bowls' are for show only in nurseries and don't usually do so well in the long-term, as one plant will always out-compete the others. They're good for gift-giving, however. But each plant should be transplanted to its own home before too long.

You need to do some homework. Google each of your herbs in turn to find out just what conditions it prefers, and just how big it can get to. Most beginners are surprised to learn that a fully-grown Italian parsley will need to be crammed tightly into your average oven! And a mature basil will take up the same space as two grossly overweight 10 year old children (and possibly more)! Rosemary is a LARGE shrub - mine towers over a 5ft fence and it's at least 2 metres in diameter. Oregano can spread far and wide, and mint will eventually take over the entire planet.

Much depends on the climate where you are. You need to find out where the plant originated from, and try to emulate those conditions as far as possible. A plant native to a hot area will not perform as well in a cool area, and vice versa. And most plants in pots will be stunted to some degree.

Smaller plants like coriander need a pot of their own so they can freely self-seed.

Put your plants in the largest pots you can possibly manage - that way they'll have plenty of room for the roots to spread, and more soil from which to obtain water and nutrients.

Keep in mind that plants have been around for a lot longer than houses. And they haven't evolved to be grown indoors.

There's a search facility at the bottom of the page in this forum. It's not the greatest searcher in the world, but if you type in the name of a particular herb, you're likely to find plenty of information on it from previous posts.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2009 at 7:31PM
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Hey there,
I too will share what I have learned...

Basil - It will grow in a pot or garden (if you use a pot I suggest it has own pot), one plant will take all the dirt if you let it(unless in the garden), more plants and the dirt runs out sooner. I suggest you kill it early, having planted one every other week or so, that is unless you want free seeds. In that case let one or a few plants live till they flower and die, or if you want just trim the flower/seed part off after the majority of the flowers have open and turned brown, then harvest the seed, very easy to do, just a little time consuming. You can keep using the basil though some think that the basil becomes bitter after it sets flowers, i cannot tell the difference. As for starting from seeds, start them in your normal pot, just broadcast a few seeds on the dirt, water it and it will grow. If you harvest your own seeds you will no longer worry about how many seeds you put down(i.e. you will have too many!)

Garlic Chives - mine are in a sq ft garden, Mine are three years old now, started from seed, and transplanted. They will over winter fine (they just look ugly during the winter). The leaves have gotten broader each year, they look nothing like the chives at the store, but they taste good! I agree with what others have said each plant has a bulb it works from, and has a few to several leaves per bulb. I am sure these would work in a pot, but I think if you can put them in the yard or garden it would be much better for you they are a very tidy decorative plant. These too will go to seed, they produce a cool little flower for each plant (the bees loved these!!!). That is where the seeds are developed. also you can eat the flower if you want, just tear it apart and use like chives. You can save the seed for spring if you want each flower makes like 25+ seeds, way too many for me use, as you do not have to replant chives each year.

Cilantro - Really easy to grow, broadcast some seed, water if you want, they start regardless. They do have a hard time in the heat, just plant more (seeds are free!) I think they do like a mostly sunny spot that has some shade in the day (they did better when I had a lot together, probably kept the ground cooler). Leave a couple or more to go to seed again, and free seed!! Each plant (depending on size) make like 10-50 seeds. Again you won't care about the amount you plant you have plenty from each plant. Again the plant tends to lose flavor when they go to seed. Their ok in a pinch (nutritionally they should be ok just not as much flavor). I suggest a planting each week if you really like it, or every other week if you don't. Takes a few (2-4) weeks to reach a collectable amt per plant. These will over winter BUT the plant has no flavor (sometimes a bad flavor) in spring time. Suggest tilling in, unless some one knows if the plant will recover? I have one plant that has overwinter and is becoming bigger than any cilantro plant I have every had, it is the size of a large parsley plant now, I want to see if it recovers or not. Btw collecting their seed is way easier than the basil's, they have a large seeds. Btw the seed as a spice is called Coriander, I set some seed aside for cooking with.

Thyme - A store bought starter plant, is several years old now overwinters fine, but has thick (2-3mm) stock now like kinda like a little bonsai tree (haha). Not as productive as first year (but that may be because I STUPIDLY put pasta water on it, DOH there is salt in that!!! It's not good for the plant you know, didn't kill it though, just made the leaves really tiny. haha that hurt to write). Even though it has flowered, I have not found how to get seeds yet (though I have not searched yet). It has pretty little flowers, could be something ornamental if you wanted. I have started other plants from clippings, just give be sure it has enough plant to give it the chance to live.

Parsley - I started with seed (this year, and last year), I have it in the garden and in pots. in the garden it might overwintered fine, last years plant was older with a large root the size of a carrot or so, it rotted before the middle of winter, this years plant is still alive and is growing fine, go figure. Though it is not a bushy little plant, now it is a flat plant very close to the ground, tastes fine though. The plants in the pots are from last year, they are still doing well, I had them inside during the winter, seem to fare well in the window, almost no growth as expected though, that is until I put them outside in the late winter sun. These did not go to seed, though I thought they should have (would have been nice, but no free seed!).

Garlic - This is the first year for me, and they are still in the ground. Pots should work, I think ground is better. I started the first batch in the garden in October, the second batch was in pots planted about Nov-Dec, they sprouted inside the house by the window. The first batch in the garden really took off now the weather has warmed, with some of the stalks now about an inch in diameter (much bigger than I expected as it is not supposed to be ready to harvest until August). The second batch isn't doing as well. These were put out before the last frost, and taken in at night (to avoid the frost), to take advantage of the warmer weather and sunlight. But they have not had the growth the first batch have had, they just seem spindly, but I think they will catch up. I have just planted another batch in the garden. I really think that the way these are sprouting they may catch up to the first batch. My original spacing was with 4 per sq ft, I think that is too far apart though, I think that you could probably squeeze 5 in a sq ft easily. I'm told the garlic leaves are edible (might be thought though), use them like green onions. Garlic may develop a bulb looking item on a stalk (and/or flower) this is a seed/clove and is also edible or you can plant it. I saw a video from some farmer on and he had a great Idea. Intended for plantings in a garden, but works in a pot also. Say for example you have a garden full of winter vegetables right now, no room for garlic. Well what you do is plant the whole head of garlic in October like normal in a small area or a pot. The cloves sprout, you let them grow like normal till spring, then remove the bunch of sprouts and separate them (carefully) and transplant them where you want when the ground is ready, viola you have a jump start for the garlic. I have tried this, so far the plants seem good.

Mint - grown from seed in a pot, grows and grows and grows... Once established will take over anything you put it in pot, garden, yard... beware the mint! Its not as bad as that, but I have heard the horror stories... Also I don't know why but... my mint sucks, It has no flavor, no aroma, little leaves. I'm gonna give it till the summer to shape up or I'm gonna compost the little sucker. Gonna have to find a better mint, suggest you try before you buy a plant.

Oregano - Grown from seed, in pot, this might overwinter. Grows similar to mint with it's long stems,though they do grow a lot slow than mint. It might be able to grow up a trellis, and may be worth it as it has nice little flowers. The stems will take root to begin a new plant if you want, not sure about how to get the seeds though. Oregano in an 8 inch pot got root bound by end of the season.

Sage - Was grown from seed in a pot, started last spring. It is a shrub so should have no problem overwintering. I have several plants in one 8 inch pot, does not seem root bound yet.

Alright hope this helps, sorry I was so long winded!!.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2009 at 2:37AM
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Interesting that your Cilantro lived overwinter. On another thread could you post pictures of it.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2009 at 8:13PM
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Everything that I've planted is growing now. Some of it has gotten quite high in the past few days. I've removed the domes off of my little plastic greenhouse, but now I'm afraid that I won't be able to tell which one of the seedlings I should transplant. I have maybe five seedlings in some of the little growing pots and because the pots are only about 2 inches in diameter, I know I can't leave them in there for long.

Should I transplant all of the seedlings to a larger pot and wait for them to get bigger before I think about which ones to get rid of?

P.S. I know this might sound stupid, but how would I remove the seedlings that I won't be keeping. Right now, they're about an inch high.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2009 at 1:56AM
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I love herbs and I know few thing about them too.

First, the herbs are two(2) types :

1-cold tolerant:those are:
cilantro(coriander)A, parsley P, chives P, thyme P, sage P, marjorams P, lavender P, winter savory P, garlic , onions, leeks, mints P. Except cilantro they are all perenial and/or can over winter.

2- Warm weather herbs are: basil, summer savory, dill, tarragon, sesami. In my area(zone 8) these are all annuals.

Growing from seeds:
1- I would only plant the annuals from seed; They are:
basil, dill, summer savory, cilantro. Since growing parsley (a perenial) is easy I grow it from seed too.
With perenials like thyme, sage, marjoram, winter savory, lavenders, .. I buy the plants. Sometimes you can divide ,what comes in a pot, into several plants. In mid to late spring when the weather is almost perfect you can sow just about any seed in the garden, or in peat pots outside. But keep them moist until they germinate and establish true leave.

I am sure there are other herbs that I did not mention or I am not familiar with them. This year I am growing chervil and garden cress. I also grow nostortiums
but not in the herb garden.

It is ok to have chives to be clumped up (one or two per quarte inch square or smaller). after they are established , water them real well, separate them and plant them right away and water them well. Keep an eye on them for a week or so. It is ok to plant two seedings together. They will get along well. You are only interested in their tops not the roots.
Harvesting chives:
When abot 8 inches or so high, cut them (with a sharp knife or scisors) just about where the leaves start separating( not too low not too high) I usually sprinkle some fine garden soil (with ash, compost, peat moss, ..) over them after cutting.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2009 at 6:54AM
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jessicavanderhoff(7 Md)

You really do only need one, most of the time :-) I can personally attest to that for mint and basil. I know, you look at that tiny little seed and think 'there's no way a big healthy plant is going to come out of you' but it does! I am not sure about chives though. My thyme was really hard to germinate, so I would recommend keeping extras if you have any, just gently move them to their own little containers.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2009 at 11:38AM
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Managing and planting tiny seeds

I think I have mentioned my method of planting tiny seeds somewhere in this forum. I repeat it here.

Say , you have a patch and a pack of seeds that is little more than cover it. Let us say that the seeds are basil.

1- I get 3 big hand full of very fine (sifted) garden soil or seeding soil.
2- Poor the entire packeage of seeds over the soil ( in a half galon container).
3-With your hands keep mixing them. Poor it on a big piece of newspaper, mix a little more , poor back into the container and mix some more .


4- Take small amout of the mixture , sprinkle it almost all over the patch. Take another, Take another,.. Until you run out of the mixture and everytime you sprinkle ,what is in your hand, over the entire patch.

I can bet you that the seeds are evenly distributer over the patch, for all practicall puposes. If you had too much seeds, they will be more closely packed. If you had too little, they will be more openly scattered.

5- Now take some more growing soil and sprinkle over your seeding, say to cover them about a quqrter of an inche or little less.
5- Water ( alway water whatever you plant). Keep the patch most until seeds germinate. Amazingly you will see that the seede are evenly spaced. There lies the science of probability and statistics in this method.

You mau apply this method to planting in pots and containers as well. You beging with the amount of the seeds that you think is necessary and follow the method from there.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2009 at 12:12AM
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If want to remove the extra seedlings as they crowd each other out you snip them off with shears. That way you won't harm the one you want to keep.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2009 at 11:04PM
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