It seems like every gardening-adjacent company is posting about seed-starting topics at the moment. It is that time of year, after all. We’ve decided to do something a bit more “road less traveled” with our version of the seed-starting topic. We’ll focus on ways that you can uplevel your germination game and experiment with a few new-to-you techniques. If you have a few years of seed germination experience under your belt and you are wondering how you can be even more successful with your efforts, this post is for you.
Optimize Your Seeds’ Germination Requirements
I spoke to Jeannine Bogard, a 35-year veteran of the vegetable and flower seed industry, to gather some pointers. “If a gardener wants to challenge themselves with seed germination, I suggest they focus on meeting the optimum germination requirements to get seed germinated and seedlings developing,” she said. She commented that for some crops, as few as a two-degree (F) difference between what the seeds are experiencing and what the seeds require can make an otherwise really good germination rate become a poor showing.
For the best outcome, go into your seed-starting venture knowing exactly what your seeds need for each one of them to sprout and develop into successful seedlings. The information that’ll serve you and your seeds best is typically listed on the seed packet and includes:
- An ideal germination temperature range
- Light exposure (some seeds such as dandelion greens actually need light to germinate!)
- Soil moisture levels
Another industry professional recently commented to me that the seed-starting process is akin to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit), even in a commercial seed-starting operation. The utmost care and consideration for the “patients” is critical in their development. Any discrepancies in germination and seedling requirements can impact that seed and plant throughout its life. Inconsistency in resources across a seedling crop might explain why some plants underperform as “adults” compared to their siblings.
Abide by Seed-Starting Dates
Jeannine said that in her opinion, where many people fail in their seed-starting process is sowing their seeds too early. Each crop has a different length of time for germination and for developing to a point where they are ready to go outside.
To avoid having 3-ft. tall tomato plants growing in your house, among other crops that might get too big if planted too soon, Jeannine suggests finding the last frost dates for your area. Seed packets typically include information along the lines of “weeks to transplanting outside;” Take that number of weeks and count the weeks backward from your last frost date to determine the date on which you should sow the seeds for that crop. And do that for each crop. It might be convenient for you to get all of your seed-starting projects completed on the same weekend, but it’s best for your plants to be sown on the date that is best for them. Find the first and last frost dates for your area at the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
If you find yourself struggling to follow your crops’ individual requirements, you’re not alone. “Even the greenhouse professionals struggle at times,” Jeannine said. Take cleome, for instance. Once you sow it, you need to provide it with alternating day and night temperatures or your germination rate will suffer. Cyclamen is another finicky crop. It needs total darkness for three weeks before the seeds even begin to imbibe water and begin to swell. Even a small sliver of light will stop the germination process. Isn’t nature amazing?
“If gardeners really want to challenge themselves, perennials would be where I would direct them,” Jeannine suggested. “Even industry pros are still trying to improve germination success on some species.” Who knows, maybe you’ll be the one to crack the seed-starting code for a persnickety perennial.
Use Seed-Starting Soil
As you know by now, not all soils and mixes are the same! For optimal seed germination success, your seeds require a blend of ingredients that provides just the right amount of moisture, air spaces, and nutrients. Our Seed Starting Blend is the perfect blend of 100% organic ingredients for all sorts of different seeds. We combine coconut coir, pine bark, rice hulls, earthworm castings, and an OMRI-listed organic fertilizer to help those seeds on their journey to adulthood.
Using a Soil Block Maker?
Soil block makers make soil blocks by compressing soil into squares or rectangles. These makers have become popular recently as folks try to minimize their use of plastics in their plant-growing endeavors.
The folks at Aster Gardens in Lemont, Illinois, LOVE using their soil blocker.
If you are using a soil block maker, we have a suggestion for using our Seed Starting Blend in the device. From the experiences shared by several of our farmer customers, we recommend adding an additional 10% of our Worm Castings by volume when making soil blocks. Our founder Mark Highland suggests adding the Worm Castings to the Seed Starting Blend in a bin or tote, mixing thoroughly, and then form your blocks. “The extra Worm Castings help create the “stickiness” that holds the blocks together when broken apart into individual blocks to plant,” Mark said. “Worm castings are known to encourage soil bacterial populations, and bacteria produce ‘glue’ (polysaccharides) that help to build soil structure, and in this case, this ‘glue’ helps hold the individual blocks together.”