Horticulture News: Start planning to germinate plants

By Kim Cowherd, Published:

It’s time to begin thinking about and planning for your spring gardens. Germinating and growing vegetable and flower seeds until they are ready to be planted in the garden can save you money, give great satisfaction, and be a fun project, if you do it correctly.

A variety of pre-fabricated systems purchased from lawn and garden stores can be used for starting transplants, or you can “do it yourself.” Any method used should be well thought out to provide an ideal environment for both seed germination and plant growth. Start ordering your seeds now from mail order catalogs and buying from local nurseries and garden centers for those early spring vegetables.

There are several steps in seed germination that must be considered before beginning the process.

Seed selection and storage: The first is seed selection and storage of your unused seed that accumulates from year to year. It is best to start with new seed, so order only one year’s supply. While some seed may be stored for several years with slight deterioration in quality, other seed types may be viable for only one year.

Germination medium: The next consideration is choosing a seed germination medium or soil. Soil from the lawn or garden is not the best choice. The germination medium should be well drained, relatively low in fertilizer, and sterile (free of insects and diseases).

You can make a medium yourself from a combination of peat, vermiculite, or similar ingredients. However, since relatively little medium is needed for seed germination, it may be best to consider purchasing a commercially packaged growing medium.

Commercially packaged growing mixes (e.g., Pro-Mix, Sunshine Mix, Jiffy Mix, Redi Earth, etc.) consist of a mixture of two or more of the following materials: sphagnum moss peat, bark, perlite, vermiculite, coarse sand, processed bark or expanded shale.

These purchased pre-mixed media have several advantages. They are convenient and suitable for most plants when used directly from the bag. They are also free from weeds, insects and diseases, and supplements have been added to support plant growth. They are readily available in local stores.

Proper container: Another consideration is the container for germination. It should be only 2-3 inches deep and sterile. The container should have holes in the bottom for drainage as well as for water uptake. A single, larger container may be used for many types of plants. However, it would be best to germinate only one type of a certain plant in a small container so that the environment for each may be more accurately controlled.

Sowing seeds: Finally you can begin sowing seed. Plan the seed sowing date carefully so your transplants are ready to go into your garden at the best time. The length of time from sowing seed until plants are ready to be transplanted depends upon the cultivar and the weather.

Generally seeds of mid-season vegetable plants should be sown between March 1 and April 15 so they will be ready for the garden after the frost-free date (April 20-May 10).

Be sure the germination medium is damp before it is placed in the container. Seed should be scattered uniformly across the surface or sown in rows. Seeds sown too thickly will result in excessive competition among plants and spindly growth. Read the package or find reliable information regarding specific instructions for the type of plant you are seeding.

Most seeds will germinate either in either darkness or light. Special needs regarding light and dark treatments should be stated on the seed packet.

Temperature requirements for germination must be considered. The ideal temperature for germination will vary. Most seeds will germinate well when grown within a 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit range. Heating elements and special lights can be rigged or purchased for optimum, controlled germination.

Prevent disease: Disease organisms may kill seedlings during germination. To help prevent disease problems you can do the following:

Use seed treated with fungicide. Seed packets are usually clearly marked when seeds have been treated with fungicides. Seeds are generally brightly colored (pink, purple, green). Do not plant seeds deeper than necessary. Keep temperature constant. Provide seedlings with adequate ventilation. Avoid overwatering.

Records should be kept each year for efficient production and correcting past errors.

For more information on growing your own seedlings, log on to http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/ho/ho56/ho56.htm or call the Extension Office and ask for Starting Plants from Seed at Home; or http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/id/id128/id128.pdf, Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky.

The Franklin County Extension Office, 101 Lakeview Ct., can be reached 695-9035 or email Kim.Cowherd@uky.edu.

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