Growing Plants from Seed

Growing Plants from Seed

Growing Plants from Seed Much of being a successful gardener is just tending our plants well. Our task is to learn enough about each and every plant’s needs, so that we can look after them, not only lovingly, but knowingly. Seeds want to come up, so all we need to do is place them in a suitable environment at the right time and they will do their job. Plants want to grow, flourish, flower and fruit — it is their nature. All we must do is ensure they have the things they need, and prevent anything that will hinder them. If we get it right, so will they!

Sowing and growing methods vary with every plant, but certain basics must be adhered to. Seeds are better sown thinly than too thick, shallow rather than too deep and late rather than too early in the season. However, it is important to remember that seeds are living things and need cool, dry conditions to stay alive. Store them in a sealable box, ideally with desiccant bags of silica gel. I use a dead refrigerator as I have many to store, but a wooden box is nearly as good.

Do not leave seeds in full sun, or in the greenhouse or kitchen. For the same reason, it is not a good idea to buy seed from racks standing in full sun or in heated rooms, far better and with a much wider choice is to buy from seed catalogues. These are usually packed with information, but you should treat extravagant claims a bit sceptically — after all, they want you to buy their own-brand special (price) seeds rather than the more economical standards.

If you get good quality seeds and keep them well, then almost all will still be viable after three or four years. Never throw seeds away — if you are unsure what they are, you can always test a batch in a pot! The main exceptions are parsley and parsnip, which rarely keep for more than two years. On the other hand, larger seeds such as courgettes may still germinate after a decade.

Saving your own seed is remarkably easy for many vegetables — after all, they do it naturally. The large seeds, such as peas and beans, are expensive to buy and the easiest to save, especially as they tend to come true year after year. Let them ripen on the plants, and store them in paper bags until required. Carrots, parsnips, celery, onions, tomatoes, leeks and lettuce are all fairly easy, but then their seed is not so expensive. The marrow family are very promiscuous, so if you have different ones flowering together the seed will not come true. Most Fl hybrids do not come true and so we are told they cannot be saved.

However, I have often had excellent results from seeds saved from some of them, so they are certainly worth a try. Potatoes, garlic and shallots are all expensive to buy and very easy to save ‘seed’ from. It is true that you can build up diseases and get poorer yields, but you can also save a lot of money. So save seed from only the best plants. If yields drop or you get a year with bad disease problems, buy new seed again the following year.

Sowing and growing

When seeds are sown in rows, a drill is usually drawn out with a hoe.

I find it is simpler and more accurate to press a thick straight cane or rod into the soil. When the plants are wanted at wide spacing, such as for parsnips, rather than sow evenly along the drill, sow a few seeds at set intervals (stations) and thin out to the best seedling as soon as they emerge. If seeds are sown as a block of several rows side by side, use a cane to mark out a hatch pattern in the soil to get equidistant spacing. For deeper holes, mark with a cane and use a blunt dibber to make a hole at each sowing station. Ensure there is sufficient moisture under the seed when it is sown by watering the drill or holes, preferably with rainwater plus a dash of seaweed solution. Let it soak in and only then sow the seed. Larger seeds, such as peas and beans, can be soaked for an hour or so before sowing rather than applying the liquid later. Never let young seedlings dry out. Do not forget that drying winds in early spring can parch the top-most layer of soil bone dry in hours — just when your seedlings have only made a few shallow roots.

Ideally, always cover the seed with dry soil or, preferably, any weed-seedfree material, such as a mixture of sharp sand and peat, leafmould or old potting compost. This ensures few weeds come up next to the crop. Big seeds, such as peas, beans and sweet corn, can have their planting holes filled in with the ordinary soil then covered with a thin layer of mulch which will suppress most weeds. Firm the lot down well then label with the date and variety. If the seed packet is empty you can use this as the label, weighted down with a stone inside. Keep weed competition down after sowing, especially during the earliest stages of growth.

When sowing in pots and multi- cell packs all the same rules apply as for soil. Use a sterile compost rather than weed-seed-filled soil from the garden. Some fine seeds may need to be surface sown and then kept in the dark to germinate, so read the packet! Generally, more seeds fail because they were sown too deep than too shallow. It is far better to soak the pots from underneath after sowing and not to water them from the top. Sowing under cover in pots is usually more successful because of the warmth, but plants soon become drawn from low light and can quickly outgrow their pots if you do not pot them on or plant them out promptly.

Potting up

Plants growing in pots need potting up as soon as they fill the pot, otherwise you get poor bonsai specimens. Better still, try and pot up just before it becomes necessary. Watch the rate of growth, if it slows for no other obvious reason, then the plant needs more root room. Knock the plant out of the pot and inspect the roots. If the roots run around the inside of the pot several times, then you have left potting on too late. When potting up, I often offset the rootball to touch the new pot at one side rather than set it centrally, because this seems to encourage faster rooting.

More importantly, I try to keep the plant sun-aligned as it was when it germinated — having the label in the pot at the north point acts as a reference. Never grossly over-pot as the compost will stagnate, and never use garden soil for potting, but choose a good quality potting compost. I use sieved garden compost from my compost heap, but can’t recommend you do the same unless you make good stuff. If your garden compost is really good stuff, then dry it and sieve it for potting. Make it go further by mixing it with roughly the same amount each of sharp sand and peat (or an equivalent). After potting, I cover the surface of the compost with bought-in compost or just sand as these are weed-seed free and keep the surface clean.

Seed beds

Although the best plants always come from seed sown in situ, often they do not make it this far because they get eaten by pests or damaged by the weather. To avoid these problems, it is safer to start them off under cover in pots or raise young plants in a seed bed where they can have special attention. A nursery bed is just a seed bed in use for a long time. It can be used for raising slower growing plants and for propagating from cuttings, which take a year or more before they are ready to be planted out in the garden. If you have a large garden, you may also find it convenient to have a small area dedicated to raising plants in bulk for use as hedging or groundcover, say.

Most often a seed bed is used to get crops through their most vulnerable early stages, ready to be transplanted out as young plants. This also keeps the main vegetable beds free to grow other crops and allows for easier weeding and intercropping. Seed beds do not need the high fertility of salad or vegetable beds, but do need copious watering. They also benefit from being sloped slightly to face the sun and sheltered from cold winds. Parsnips and other roots have to be sown in situ, where they are to finish, and legumes are usually treated similarly. Seed beds are most used for brassicas and leeks, bedding plants and biennial flowers, before these are moved to their final sites.

Some plants, such as brassicas, actually do best grown in a seed bed and transplanted once when they are very young to break the tap root — they then develop a good, fibrous root system. Transplant them a second time, to their final site, when they have four true leaves and they will romp away.

03. January 2011 by admin
Categories: Garden Management, Propagation | Tags: , | Comments Off on Growing Plants from Seed


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