With February nearly here, I’m thinking it’s time to start some seeds for spring planting. It’s a great way to get a jump on spring gardening. It also helps to save a few bucks, an important consideration in my home, I can tell you.
I must however confess that despite being a “garden expert” I’ve had my share of seed starting disasters. Let me tell you about some mistakes I’ve made and how to avoid them.
Mistake 1: Using Old Seeds That Won’t Sprout – Every spring I have leftover seeds from last year. Old seeds may or may not sprout. To test before I sow, I take 10 seeds from a packet, wrap them in a wet paper towel, and store them in a plastic bag for a week. At the end of the week I count the number that have sprouted. If it’s less than five, I toss the old seeds and buy new.
Mistake 2: Not Using Seed Starting Medium – If I’m pressed for time, I sometimes cheat and plant seeds in any old soil I have handy. Bad move on my part. Seed starting medium works better than any potting soil for starting seeds. These special blends are light-weight and fungus-free. Seeds are more likely to stay moist without getting soggy. It may cost a few more bucks but the results will be worth it.
Mistake 3: Using the Wrong Pot –The soil in pots crafted from porous material (peat, newspaper, cardboard) are inexpensive but will dry out quickly. I’ve had much better success using seed starting trays with a water reservoir underneath. Refilling a water reservoir every four to five days is also better for distracted people like me.
Mistake 4: Ignoring Directions – I’m one of those impatient souls who believe instructions are for the other guy. All too often that means I waste time fiddling around before I admit my foolishness and go back to the directions. I’ve learned the hard way to read the seed package first before sowing. Directions such as “don’t cover seeds,” “soak before sowing,” and “keep warm” are there for a reason. If I ignore these directions, I shouldn’t expect much to come up.
Mistake 5: Not Labeling the Seed Trays – Many plants look similar when they are small. In the weeks between sowing and planting it’s all too easy to forget what you planted where. I made the mistake once of planting half a tray with parsley and the other half with cilantro, two close cousins. Weeks later when I was ready to transplant, I convinced myself I knew which half was which. Then disaster struck. I managed to overturn the flat as I was preparing to plant them outdoors. I had no choice but to plant them higgledy-piggledy and hope I could tell the difference later when they were grown.
Mistake 6: Poor Lighting – Home is a wonderful place for me and my family. Not so for those seedlings. Plants need a wider spectrum of light than humans see. A sunny window may look bright to our eyes but only 10-15 percent of the sun’s total illumination makes it through the glass. I’ve learned to compensate for the darker indoor conditions with a grow lamp, a fluorescent bulb designed to imitate the sun’s broad spectrum of light.
Now you know all the seed starting sins I’ve done over the years. Take a tip from my older and wiser self. Don’t do what I did.
If you enjoy herbs and organic gardening, you’ll want to meet Ann McCormick, the Herb ‘n Cowgirl. A life-long gardener, she has devoted her time for the last 20 years to writing and speaking about her favorite subject. The Herb ‘n Cowgirl also shares her love of herbs and her gardening techniques as a speaker and media guest. She lives in Fort Worth, TX with her husband of 37 years and an assortment of dogs. To find out more about the Herb ‘n Cowgirl visit her at www.herbncowgirl.com.