Finding success with seeds

There is a lot of satisfaction in growing your own plants from seed, says master gardener Brian Minter

  • Feb. 17, 2018 10:30 a.m.

Around this time of year, millions of Canadians are leafing through seed catalogues or browsing through seed racks in garden centres. They are imagining all sorts of wonderful colour schemes for their garden and anticipating baskets of fresh produce. Most of these good things are going to come from seeds. It all seems fairly easy, but in reality, I would guess that less than 50 percent of all the seeds purchased actually grow to maturity. This is not because the seeds are defective, even though we like to blame them for our bad luck; it’s most often because we need a little more information on how to have success with seeds.

Today, many new hybrid pansy seeds cost about 3.7 cents per seed, and hybrid tomato seeds are often over $125.00 per 30gms (1 oz.) If you’re interested in saving money, there is some value in knowing at least a few of the basics about seed germination.

Firstly, most of us buy too much seed. We keep thinking that vegetable seeds are such a great investment so, we buy a few extra, just in case some don’t make it. That’s like buying a year’s supply of detergent when it’s not on sale. As a guide, many seed companies are now listing the number of seeds each packet contains, and seed catalogues are very good at indicating how many seeds there are per gram of seed. If you only need six tomato plants, why are you buying 100 seeds?

The next problem area is what to do with seeds once we have them. Some folks leave them in the kitchen, some end up in the garage, and yes, many get misplaced or lost. The best place for virtually all your vegetable and flower seeds is in your freezer. Not only do you know where they are, but they are also being stored at a constant temperature and humidity. This stratifies them as well, which helps speed up germination.

Timing is everything, as the saying goes, and this principle is especially true when starting seeds indoors. There has to be a natural progression from seed germination to planting outside in the garden. Unless you have a perfectly controlled environment in which to keep young seedlings, you must time the sowing of your seeds to correspond with the readiness of your garden outside. In other words, don’t start outdoor tomatoes until early April. As a rule of thumb, a later start is better as our springs have been rather cool and wet the past few years. When the weather warms up to consistent day temperatures of 10°C, many seeds, like peas, broad beans, radishes and onions, can be sown directly outdoors in your garden.

I’m also convinced that you need a cool, well-lit area in which to place your young seedlings during the early stages of growth. Adjustable Power Smart lighting, adjustable heat and circulating fans are also important.

It takes a bit of trial and error to really achieve success with germination, but the basics are: use a good medium and clean starting trays and provide bottom heat, good light and humidity. Professional starter mixes are probably the easiest way to go, and if you use these mixes in plastic cell packs or seed plug trays, your success will be far better. Many seed catalogues indicate the best temperature each variety needs for maximum germination, and the easiest way to achieve that temperature is by means of a heating mat. Keep in mind, however, that they are not cheap.

Very few seeds need to be covered with a growing mix for optimum germination. Most seeds need to be exposed to about 12 to 16 hours of high intensity light per day. They must, however, be kept humid. After watering them in carefully, using very hot water and a proper watering can, like the English ‘Haws’ watering can, or a misting bottle, be sure you place some clear plastic or glass on top of the trays to hold in both the warmth and the humidity. Seeds need to be checked twice daily for moisture. Germination time will vary with the type of seed, but as soon as they sprout, immediately remove the covers, cool them down, provide lots of light and keep the humidity up. A drenching with a fungicide, like organic ‘Defender’, will help prevent disease. Maintain the soil on the dry side once the seeds are up and away.

Your greatest challenge will be to keep all your seedlings short and compact before they go into the garden. High light, moderate watering and cooler temperatures will help you achieve just that.

There is a lot of satisfaction in growing your own plants from seed, but germination takes a good deal of care and attention. Seeds contain a little magic, and like a good magician, we must learn our craft well to help them perform up to our expectations.

Just Posted

Chilliwack prolific offender wanted yet again

B.C.-wide warrant issued for David Allen Geoghegan

One man, two women charged with stolen pickup downtown Chilliwack

None of the three have criminal history in B.C.

COLUMN: Should elected officials block constituents and reporters on social media?

Ottawa mayor was sued for doing that but a Chilliwack school trustee didn’t get that message

Chilliwack-Hope MP says new summer jobs grant application no longer includes ‘values test’

Those with anti-abortion beliefs left out last year because of requirement to respect the Charter

Ask the Coach: Chilliwack Chiefs bench boss Brian Maloney talks shootouts

Ask the Coach is a bi-weekly feature where Maloney gives unfiltered answers to fan questions.

VIDEO: U.S. Congress to probe whether Trump told lawyer Cohen to lie

At issue is a BuzzFeed News report that about negotiations over a Moscow real estate project

Rookie Demko backstops Canucks to 4-3 win over Sabres

Young Vancouver goalie makes 36 saves to turn away Buffalo

Charges upgraded against mother of murdered B.C. girl

Kerryann Lewis now faces first- rather than second-degree murder in the death of Aaliyah Rosa.

UPDATE: Injured firefighter in stable condition

Kelowna fire crews responded to a blaze at Pope’sGallery of BC Art & Photography on Friday

Book a ride on a driverless shuttle in Surrey or Vancouver

Automated vehicle demos are being offered, as the two cities plan pilot projects with the shuttles

Heavy snowfall expected on the Coquihalla

Snowfall warning in effect for the Coquihalla Highway, from Hope to Merritt

Rare ‘super blood wolf moon’ takes to the skies this Sunday

Celestial event happens only three times this century

Arrest made after historic B.C. church hit by arson

The fire at the 150-year-old Murray United Church in Merritt was considered a possible hate crime

Missing man from Crowsnest Pass could be in Lower Mainland

58-year-old Stuart David Duff was last seen on Jan. 6, 2019.

Most Read