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Growing From Seed

The first step in growing from seeds is to determine if they should be started inside or direct sown outside. Some seeds are best planted directly into the garden, while others really should be started indoors. Most seeds can be started inside, even those which require a cold treatment first can be"tricked" to germinate inside. Direct seeding with many annuals is a matter of choice. To determine whether you should start seeds indoors or out consider the growing season in your area. If it is shorter than the time the plant needs to produce flowers or vegetables then you should start indoors. Generally seeds of a manageable size are sown directly outdoors. Really small seeds need the extra attention sowing indoors in a controlled environment provides. Some gardeners start seedlings indoors to extend the harvest. Many vegetables and flowers will produce much earlier if started indoors. You will lose more seedlings to the elements, insects and bad weather when direct seeding.

Growing Medium
When starting seeds indoors, always use a soilless, pre-mixed growing medium. Such mixes are generally made up of peat, perlite and vermiculite along with some nutrients. These mixes are for the most part free from disease, insects and weed seeds. We also recommend you can spray your seeds or growing medium with a fungicide product such as "No-Damp" to prevent "Damping Off" disease on your seedlings. Damping off is a disease caused by several different fungi that rot the seeds during germination or kill the seedlings after emergence.

Sowing Seeds
We provide sowing instructions with all our seed varieties. Some large seeds can be seeded directly into the pot where they will grow until transplanting outdoors. For most small seeds it is best to simply scatter the seed thinly over the surface of the soil and then cover with an appropriate amount of soil. Some seeds only need to be left on the soil surface and not covered. After germination the tiny seedlings can be separated and transplanted into larger containers.

Soil Temperature
Most seeds require a warm soil temperature to initiate germination. Generally, seeds germinate best at a soil temperature of 64-72 F (18-22 C). Keeping the temperature within this range can be hard, especially for seeds which take several days or even weeks to germinate. Air temperature is generally warmer that the soil temperature, and is not sufficient enough to warm the soil. Bottom heat from specially designed mats or cables are ideal but you can also place your containers on top of the fridge, or radiator, etc.

Soil Moisture
When sowing seeds inside, soil moisture is equally as important as temperature. Seeds need water to help soften the seed coat and stimulate the root development. If your soil is allowed to dry, the germination will be delayed or, in most cases, ended. To keep the soil moist, mix the growing medium with water, enough so that if a handful is squeezed, a small amount of water will run out. After mixing, sow your seeds according to directions and then cover the containers with clear plastic. We really like those "mini-greenhouse" units that come with clear domes and holding trays. You can also use sealed bags or plastic wrap to keep your medium from drying out. If your medium begins to dry out too fast, use a water bottle which will provide a fine mist or watering can with a gentle nozzle, as to not disturb the seeds. After germination, be sure to remove the plastic and place plants under grow lights or in another bright light location.

Lighting for your seedlings is extremely important. Without sufficient light, your young plants will become tall or "leggy", which will make them weak and easy to break. Ideally, you should use adjustable fluorescent lights when growing plants indoors. Have your light suspended from the ceiling, or use a table top or shelf style of lighting stand to hang over the seedlings. Your lights and the plants must be only 3-4" from the lights at all times for proper growth. You should keep your lights on for about 16 hours a day - we recommend you use an automatic timer to turn on and off your lights. If you don't have lights, you should grow in a bright south facing window.

Watering young seedlings can be a tricky job as you do not want your medium to dry out but you don't want it too wet either. Usually when the top «" of the soil appears dry, you should water. Use a mister or a fine stream watering can to water seedlings. We recommend that whenever possible to water your seedlings from below to help to prevent "Damping Off" disease. To water from below, place your containers in a tray filled with water until the soil becomes moist (not soggy) and then remove.

Feeding your seedlings is important, especially if you have them in cell packs for an extended period before transplanting. You should start fertilizing young seedlings with a mild or small dose of a balanced fertilizer such as 20-20-20 or 15-30-15. Which ever fertilizer you use, be sure to dilute to half the strength for the first few feedings and then gradually work up to full strength. You should feed plants at least once a week.

Transplanting Outside
Now that you have nice healthy seedlings it is time to transplant to your garden. The most common mistake by beginner gardeners is to rush this process. Before planting your tending seedlings outside you must subject them to a "hardening off" period. Inside grown plants must be gradually exposed to outside conditions or they are likely to be stunted or die before they adapt to their"harsh" environment. The process of "hardening off" requires approximately two weeks but this can vary depending on the method you prefer to use. A couple of weeks out from your planned transplant date you should reduce the amount of water the seedlings get. Let the soil become a bit dry-looking between watering. At least a week out from transplant time, start exposing the plants to outside conditions. You want that first exposure to be numbered in hours. Put them out in a shady, protected place for a few hours (say, mid-morning to early afternoon). If you live in cold climate you may want to have a shaded cold frame available. After a couple of days of short exposure, you should be able to leave the seedlings out for the day, still in the shade. Each day, nudge them closer to a spot that gets full sun, or uncover more of the cold frame. Within a few days leave your seedlings fully exposed to the elements, day and night. Only then should you transplant to the garden.

Growing From Seed Without a Garden
Growing from seed doesn't necessary mean owning your own backyard. Amazing results can be achieved by gardening in pots and containers in even the smallest of spaces, whether it be a tiny patio, a small balcony or even just a window sill. Growing from seed is not only fun but very rewarding; being responsible for nurturing a new plant into existence from seed to full bloom is to experience the wonder of nature at first hand. What's more, plants and flowers have the amazing ability to cheer up even the drabbest of corners, meaning that you can transform your outdoor space, however small.

Benefits of Container Growing
There are many advantages of growing from seed in pots and containers which make such gardening far from a compromise. Firstly, with a container you are not at the mercy of the soil in your area; you have control over your soil type as you can choose what to buy to fill your container. Secondly, containers and pots are portable so if you move house, you don't have to wave goodbye to any carefully cultivated blooms. Furthermore, the ease of moving potted plants means that you can play around with groupings or arrangements in your small space easily; something very difficult or even impossible to achieve with plants which have been planted directly in the ground. Lastly with no tilling, digging or mowing to attend to, container growing can be much easier and less time consuming.

Container Basics
To get started with growing from seed in containers, all you really require is a container, some soil and some seeds. You don't even have to venture out to your nearest garden centre or nursery, you can find many
excellent gardening deals online which will be delivered directly to your door. Depending on what you intend to grow, you need to choose a suitable spot, so ensure you find out what conditions your particular plants like best, for example sun or shade. It is advisable to buy soil which is specifically formulated for container growing with added nutrients and water retaining crystals. If you plan on sowing seeds in a number of containers, the cost of soil can be considerable but it is possible to source free container soil with a bit of research. Regardless of what you are growing, most seeds will come with planting instructions so all you need do is follow the guidance on spacing and how deep to plant each seed. Some seeds might need to be sown into smaller containers indoors and then transferred into the pot where you intend the plant to live once the seedling is a certain size. If your particular seed variety requires initial indoor sowing, make sure you avoid these common mistakes.

Simple Salad for Beginners
For a miniature kitchen garden, an easy place to start is by growing a container or two of salad fixings from seed. So-called designer leaf lettuce can be very expensive when bought from the supermarket on a regular basis and often goes bad before you have had a chance to eat all of it. You can save yourself money by growing your own. What's more, in milder weather - from around May depending on where you live - you can sow the seeds directly into a pot or container outdoors making the whole process very simple. With regular planting and harvesting you could keep yourself in salad leaves for much of the year. Salad can be grown in a container on a balcony, or will even thrive on a sunny window ledge. Choose a spot or window that is favoured with plenty of sunshine and if it will catch some rain too, so much the better as it will save you some time spent watering. Containers for window-sill salad leaves should be as deep as can comfortably fit the ledge and the longer the container, the more salad you are able to grow. Although pots and containers are relatively cheap, you could get creative and combine recycling with growing from seed by using old tin containers or boxes made of plastic or wood.

Container Blooms for Budding Enthusiasts
If you have gained confidence with the successes of growing simple plants such as salad leaves in containers you might consider growing some
flowering plants. There are a myriad of beautiful blooms which can be grown from seed and which are actually more suited to containers than to being planted in the ground. Growing flowers from seed can be such a joy as the resulting plants lift the heart with their colour and fragrance. One simple way of adding a variety of colours and an abundance of blooms without worrying about mixing varieties of seed, is by choosing a seed such as the Dahlia 'Unwins Dwarf Mix' which produces flowers in a stunning spectrum of colours. Alternatively, make your containers unique by sourcing sought-after rare varieties of seeds such as the exquisite orange petalled Radio Calendula which is simple to grow in containers and can be cut and brought indoor to fill vases if you wish. Or add a divine fragrance to your container garden with the Night Flox ~ Midnight Candy plant. This variety is ideal in a container next to an outdoor chair where the nocturnal flowers will open at night, releasing their sweet almond scent while you sit gazing at the stars. With so many vibrant flowers available to grow from seed in containers, the only difficulty will be in choosing to plant.

Plant Hardiness Zones
Plant Hardiness Zone Maps are often referenced when determining if a specific plant variety will successfully grow in your area. The lower the zone number a plant has, the hardier the plant. The zone number is a general guide to hardiness. Many other factors affect how well a plant will thrive, such as snow cover, freeze-thaw cycles and strong winds. Often there are micro-climates within zones and even within your own garden. To find out which zone you live in, please click appropriate link below. We recommend you only use the maps as reference and you should also check with your local agriculture department or other gardeners to see what grows best in your zone.

Plant Hardiness Zones of USA

Plant Hardiness Zones of Canada

Seed Germination
The following data is provided by Thompson & Morgan Successful Seed Raising Guide. This guide is out of print.

A seed is an embryo plant and contains within itself virtually all the materials and energy to start off a new plant. To get the most from one's seeds it is needful to understand a little about their needs, so that just the right conditions can be given for successful growth.

One of the most usual causes of failures with seed is sowing too deeply; a seed has only enough food within itself for a limited period of growth and a tiny seed sown too deeply soon expends that energy and dies before it can reach the surface. Our seed guide therefore states the optimum depth at which each type of seed should be sown. Another common cause is watering. Seeds need a supply of moisture and air in the soil around them. Keeping the soil too wet drives out the air and the seed quickly rots, whereas insufficient water causes the tender seedling to dry out and die. We can thoroughly recommend the Polythene bag method (No. 11) which helps to overcome this problem. Watering of containers of very small seeds should always be done from below, allowing the water to creep up until the surface glistens.

Most seeds will of course only germinate between certain temperatures. Too low and the seed takes up water but cannot germinate and therefore rots, too high and growth within the seed is prevented. Fortunately most seeds are tolerant of a wide range of temperatures but it is wise to try to maintain a steady, not fluctuating temperature, at around the figure we have recommended in our guide. Once several of the seeds start to germinate the temperatures can be reduced by about 5 degrees F and ventilation and light should be given.

Some perennials and tree and shrub seeds can be very slow and erratic in germination. This may sometimes be due to seed dormancy, a condition which prevents the seed from germinating even when it is perfectly healthy and all conditions for germination are at optimum. The natural method is to sow the seeds out of doors somewhere where they will be sheltered from extremes of climate, predators, etc. and leave them until they emerge, which may be two or three seasons later. Dormancy, however, can be broken artificially and our section Nos. 12-16 deals with this.


1. Strelitzia and similar
Do not chip or mark the seedcoat at all but merely remove the orange tuft and soak for up to 2 hours, or even overnight. Sow the seeds in moist sand, pressing them into the sand until only a small part of the black seed is visible and grow in a temperature of 75 degrees F in the dark and ensure that the sand always remains moist. From 7 days onwards inspect the container once a week and as soon as any bulges, roots or shoots are seen remove the germinated seed and pot up in a compost of half peat and half sand. We find that Strelitzias often produce a root without a shoot and we have also found that the young shoots and roots are susceptible to fungal attack. Therefore as soon as possible pot up and provide light and fresh air. Germination can start within 7 days and carry on for 6 months or more.

2. Palms; Banana; Coffee; Mini-Orange; Tea; Cycads and similar
All these items can take several months to germinate and are very erratic in germination. Soak for at least 2 hours in warm water before sowing. (After soaking the parchment shell on the Coffee seeds should be removed with the fingernail). Sow in Levington or Arthur Bowers (compost and place in the dark in a temperature of 75 degrees F, keeping the compost moist at all times, but not wet. Inspect regularly and occasionally dig around in the compost with a penknife. We normally sow our seeds just below the surface of the soilatid we have found that sometimes they make a very vigorous root without producing a shoot at all. If you find a seed with a root then it should be excavated and potted up into a 3-4'' pot immediately when it will produce a shoot. Cycads prefer to be potted up into a compost of half sand and half peat. The Tea requires the above treatment but in a lower temperature of 60-65 degree F.

3. Clivia and similar
Sow these seeds immediately on receipt in Levington or a peat based compost, covering with a 1/2" compost. Water and place in the dark in a temperature of 65-70'F. Germination should occur within 3 weeks.

4. Ferns (Garden and Indoor)
The fern spore needs a fine film of moisture over which to swim in order to complete the process of reproduction, therefore a good peat compost, such as Levington, ought to be used pressed down very firmly and which is a lot more moist than one would normally have it in order to provide the moisture film. The spore (seed) should be sprinkled close together on the surface of the soil and not covered and the container should be covered with a piece of glass and placed in diffused light, but not darkness. It is essential to ensure that the compost remains moist at all times. Germination which commences with the appearance of a film of green jelly over the soil can take anything from 1 -5 months.

You may wish to try germinating the fern spore on blotting paper which is placed in a saucer and kept moist at all times. A transparent cover is inverted over the saucer and the whole lot placed in a well lit but not sunny position. You can actually see the fern spores developing and when you can see small plantlettes appearing along the jelly the blotting paper should be lifted and placed on the surface of a container of Levington compost and watered well. It should then be covered with a transparent cover which can remain there until the plants are quite large.

5. Bromeliads; Cineraria; Calceolaria; Insect Eaters (Drosera, Nepenthes, Sarracenias); Living Stones; Meconopsis; Rubber Plants; Saintpaulia; Streptocarpus; Tibouchina; Xmas Cactus; Begonia and similar
These seeds should be sown on the surface of the compost and not covered. The compost should be quite moist and we would recommend that you cover the seed container with a piece of glass or clear plastic and leave in a temperature of approximately 65 degrees F in a position which receives diffused light. Once some of the seeds have germinated air should be admitted gradually otherwise the seedlings may damp off.

Alternatively the seeds can be sown on to moist blotting paper or kitchen towel placed in a saucer. Cover with a transparent cover and place on a windowsill which receives plenty of light, but not direct sunlight. Keep the blotting paper wet at all times and when the tiny seedlings are large enough to handle prick out into small pots. If the INSECT EATERS are sown using the first method described the compost requires to be both moist yet free draining. Use only pure peat with no fertiliser added to which sphagnum moss should be added if available.

6. Alstroemeria; Bonsai; Clematis; Hardy Cyclamen; Eucalyptus; Flower Lawn; Helleborus; Hosta; Primula; Iris and similar.
Sowing OCTOBER-FEBRUARY. Sow the seeds in John Innes seed compost, covering them with a thin layer of compost. After watering place the seed container outside against a North wall or in a cold frame, making sure they are protected against mice, and leave them there until the spring. The compost should be kept moist but not wet at all times, and if the seed containers are out in the open then some shelter has to be given against excessive rain. In the spring bring the seed containers into the greenhouse, or indoors on to a well lit but not sunny windowsill and keep the compost moist. This should trigger off germination. If the seeds do not germinate in the spring keep them in cool moist conditions throughout the summer. As each seed germinates we would recommend that you transplant it almost immediately into its own pot.

Sowing MARCH-SEPTEMBER. Sow in John Innes seed compost, or something similar, and place each container in a polythene bag and put into the refrigerator (not the freezer compartment) for 2-3 weeks. After this time place the containers outside in a cold frame or plunge them up to the rims in a shady part of the garden border and cover with glass or clear plastic. Some of the seeds may germinate during the spring and summer and these should be transplanted when large enough to handle. The remainder of the seeds may lay dormant until next spring.

Germination of some items, particularly Alstroemeria, Clematis, Hardy Cyclamen and Christmas Rose (Helleborus) may take take 18 months or more.

An alternative method for growing PRIMULAS is to sow in a peat based compost which has already been moistened and do not cover the seed. Cover the container with a piece of glass or plastic and grow in the dark in a steady temperature of 60F. This is quite adequate and over 65'F germination will be inhibited. When the seeds start to germinate sprinkle a thin layer of fine compost over them and when the seed leaves come through this, move the box to a well lit place with a temperature of 55'F. At no time should the seed box be in full sun.

Hardy Cyclamen have been found to germinate best in total darkness at around 55-60'F. We have had good results with the following method. Place the seeds between two pieces of damp filter paper, Kleenex tissue, etc., then put into a polythene bag and place this into an opaque container in order to exclude all light. Inspect the seeds after a month and remove and prick out as the seedlings appear, returning the ungerminated seeds to total darkness.

7. Freesia
Soak the seeds for 24 hours and sow in Levington compost, or something similar, and place in a temperature of 50-60'F. Germination can sometimes be slow.

8. Nertera Granadensis (Bead Plant)
We recently found that this subject requires a well drained compost which is completely free from fertiliser (e.g. moss peat and sand in equal parts). Sow by barely covering the seed and place a sheet of glass over the container, and leave in a temperature of 65-75'F. Turn the glass daily as excessive condensation can kill the young seedlings. On germination the seedlings look very thin and spindly and the glass should be removed almost immediately and the seed container moved to a well lit but not sunny position. Prick out as soon as possible into a compost of 50% pure peat and 50% sand. Keep moist and shaded until established.

9. Cactus and similar
Make very shallow furrows in compost with a plant label and sow in these. No seed should be completely buried. Water from beneath and cover with glass and brown paper or black Polythene. Place in a dark position in a temperature of 70-75F and keep moist. On germinating move to a light but not sunny windowsill, give plenty of ventilation and water from beneath. Pot up when they begin to overcrowd. During the first winter only keep warm and do not allow to get too dry. If it is not possible to grow warm then keep them drier. Subsequent years keep relatively dry through the winter. Can be planted outside, plunged to the rim, all summer if required.

10. Lilies
Successful germination of seeds of some lilies requires a period of warmth followed by one of cold.

Method 1. Put seeds in a screw top jar in moist (not wet) peat and keep at 70-75F for 3-4 months. Inspect regularly, any normal seedlings (that is having root and seedling leaves) should be pricked out as they germinate. Any seeds which produce roots but not seedling leaves, sow in a pan and keep at 32-40'F for 3 months. Seed leaves and normal growth will follow.

Method 2. Sow in a pan in summer (warm spell); put in a frame (or outside covered by a piece of glass) for the winter. Seeds will germinate in spring. Soil Humus rich (peat or leafmould) lime free and very free drainage (use 1/3 grit). Never overwater, keep bulbs almost dry from November to March.

11. For more delicate seeds
A method which has proved useful for not only small delicate seeds but for a wide range of types is the Polythene bag method.

The seeds should be sown on the surface of the moist compost, covered to their recommended depth if necessary and the container is then placed inside a Polythene bag after which the end is sealed with an elastic band. The bag should 'fog-up' with condensation within 24 hours and if this does not occur place the container almost up to its rim in moisture until the soil surface glistens, then replace in the bag and reseal. The bag is not removed and normally no more watering is required until the seeds germinate. However, it is wise, if left for a long period to check the compost occasionally.

The seed container, bag etc. should be placed in a well lit place with a steady temperature. As soon as a fair number of the seedlings emerge remove the polythene bag, lower the temperature a few degrees and provide plenty of light, but not bright sunshine, to ensure that sturdy seedlings develop. It is also helpful to spray the seedlings occasionally for the first 14 days.


12. Hard Seeds-Chipping
Some seeds, e.g. Sweet peas, lpomaea etc., have hard seed coats which prevent moisture being absorbed by the seed. All that is needed is for the outer surface to be scratched or abraided to allow water to pass through. This can be achieved by chipping the seed with a sharp knife at a part furthest away from the 'eye', by rubbing lightly with sandpaper or with very small seed pricking carefully once with a needle etc.

Some of our geranium seeds have already been treated in this way when you receive them.

13. Hard Seeds-Soaking
Soaking is beneficial in two ways; it can soften a hard seed coat and also leach out any chemical inhibitors in the seed which may prevent germination. 24 hours in water which starts off hand hot is usually sufficient. If soaking for longer the water should be changed daily. Seeds of some species (e.g. Cytisus, Caragana, Clianthus) swell up when they are soaked. If some seeds of a batch do swell within 24 hours they should be planted immediately and the remainder pricked gently with a pin and returned to soak. As each seed swells it should be removed and sown before it has time to dry out.

14. Stratification (cold treatment)
Some seeds need a period of moisture and cold after harvest before they will germinate-usually this is necessary to either allow the embryo to mature or to break dormancy. This period can be artificially stimulated by placing the moistened seed in a refrigerator for a certain period of time (usually 3- 5 weeks at around 41 F). With tiny seeds it is best to sow them on moistened compost, seal the container in a Polythene bag and leave everything in the refrigerator for the recommended period. However, larger seeds can be mixed with 2-3 times their volume of damp peat, placed direct into a Polythene bag which is sealed and placed in the refrigerator. Look at seeds from time to time. The seeds must be moist whilst being pre-chilled, but it doesn't usually benefit them to be actually in water or at temperatures below freezing.

Light also seems to be beneficial after prechilling and so pre-chilled seeds should have only the lightest covering of compost over them, if any is required, and the seed trays etc. should be in the light and not covered with brown paper etc.

15. Double Dormancy
Some seeds have a combination of dormancies and each one has to be broken in turn and in the right sequence before germination can take place; for example, some Lilies, Tree paeonies, Taxus need a three month warm period (68-86'F) during which the root develops and then a three month chilling to break dormancy of the shoots, before the seedling actually emerges. Trillium needs a three month chill followed by three months of warmth and then a further three month chill before it will germinate.

16. Outdoor treatment
The above mentioned methods (12-15) accelerate the germination process and help to prevent seeds being lost due to external hazards (mice, disease, etc.) but outdoor sowing is just as effective albeit longer. The seeds are best sown in containers of free draining compost and placed in a cold frame or plunged up to their rim outdoors in a shaded part of the garden, preferably on the north side of the house avoiding cold drying winds and strong sun.

Recent tests show that much of the beneficial effects of pre-chilling are lost if the seed is not exposed to light immediately afterwards. We therefore recommend sowing the seeds very close to the surface of the soil and covering the container with a sheet of glass. An alternative method especially with larger seeds, is to sow the seed in a well prepared ground, cover with a jam jar and press this down well into the soil so that the seeds are enclosed and safe from predators, drying out etc.

We would also recommend you consult No. 6 which contains further practical suggestions regarding the special treatment of seeds.