Saturday, February 9, 2008

Seed Starting

It is time to start seeds. There is often conflicting advice about starting seeds here in Tennessee, but generally speaking, you want to plan to plant your seedlings in the garden between the last week of April and the first week of May. My goal is always to plant the 1st of May, but I usually (okay, always) jump the gun and plant in April. Sometimes early April. We all know what happens then. The late freeze comes and kills the seedlings at the very worst, at best the freeze will only set the seedlings back a few weeks. But it is just too HARD to really wait, nonetheless, plan to plant your seedlings out the end of April (that is my story and I am sticking to it!)

Now that you know about when you can plant your seedlings out, you can back up the weeks it takes to grow a seedling and plan your seed plant date from that. I have grown seedlings for the past four years, this will be my fifth. I have had great success and some failures and will share with you hoping it may help you with your seedlings.

I read somewhere you do not need grow lights to successfully grow seedlings. But, you do need a light at least 4' long so the different color rays of the light can effectively provide your seedlings with what they need to grow-light (you provide the water). So, thrifty gardener that I am, I purchased a bunch of $10 shop lights, hung them from my ceilings all over the house, placed tables under them and set about planting. This method worked well for a few years but I got kind of tired of lights all over the house and having to waunder around to water and tend to the plants. So, two years ago I consolidated my seed growing efforts into one convenient location.

One of my dear friends (Delisa), whom I knew from the first Gulf War, was visiting me from Iowa. She saw I had plant lights spread about and insisted we go to Sam's Club so she could buy me a plant shelf. She knew exactly what would work and would not take a no. She insisted so off we went. The plant shelf she had in mind was a chrome shelf with adjustable shelves. It stands six feet tall, four feet wide, and about two feet deep. It is all chrome but has plastic shelf covers which help with situating the plants. I bet many of you have the exact same shelf in your homes or one like it, as they are very popular shelves. The picture is of my plant shelf nearly ready for seeds. Currently, I have wintered over coleus growing under the lights.

I attached two 48" lights to the middle three shelves with 'S' hooks. I can grow four seed starting trays per shelf. If I grew seeds in the 96 pack seed trays I could theoretically grow 1152 seedlings! I haven't of course, that is probably too much for even me. I generally grow about 200-400 seedlings per year. It all depends on what I have in mind and how much effort I want to put into growing the seedlings. Sometimes it is so much more cost effective simply buying transplants in a store and I have found convenience is something I value more and more as life goes on.

I never start vegetable seeds. That may seem unusual for an avid vegetable gardener, but the varieties found in local stores are more than adequate for my needs, and I 'd rather have the space for ornamental flowers. My daughter does grow vegetables from seeds so she sometimes gives me some unique varieties when we swap seedlings.

The majority of seeds I start indoors are plants I need immense quantities of, or herbs, or perennials (when I first moved here), but most usually an annual which is destined for my foundation beds. Some of the plants I have started from seed are: shasta daisies (successful but why bother when I can divide?), marigolds, impatiens (very rewarding), salvias (the varieties are SO much better by seed), perennial baby's breath (low germination rate but successful), carnations, gallardia, flowering tobacco (every little tiny seed will germinate when put on top of the soil, very easy to prick out and move around), vinca, basil (so many more varieties), parsley (still growing in the garden due to reseeding), chamomille (not successful), moonvine, sweet peas, chives (not too successful), alyssum (my favorite reseeder), cleomes (Why on earth? I only did it once, now of course they come every year and I advertise free seedlings on freecycle in the spring because I have too many), and helenium. Probably more but I can't think of them.

Whenever I had tried to grow seedlings early on in my gardening life, I experienced failure due to damping off. No matter what I did the seedlings would die. I have not had that problem since I went to the light system. Additionally, I use sterilized seed starter mix and make sure my seed flats are clean. Just as soon as I see a seedling pop up, I remove the plastic cover to ensure good air circulation. I also sometimes sprinkle milled spaghum moss on the surface of the flat after I have sowed the seed and use a ceiling fan on its lowest setting to circulate air even further.

One last tip to successfully grow seedlings, use bottom heat while germinating and growing the seedlings. Special mats are available from numerous catalog sources and Rural King usually has an excellent supply. I start seeds at different times and have found only one 48" mat and one 12" mat have worked for me. The initial investment is expensive for the mats, but they last forever and are well worth the expense, especially if you take the time to grow seeds in the first place. They really need the warmth in addition to good air circulation.

in the garden....getting ready to sow some seeds.


  1. Hi Guys,
    Jack of all trades has these shelves in the shop, and for that matter, the lights also. Maybe its time to go raiding. HA. I know I'll never look at the tools the same way again. I have a heated flowerbox that i have never used, its real big. Are they used for the same thing? Lots of dirt will fit in it.
    Hoping the pups are coming home today. Mine was ok yesterday, only a ball of quakes when we returned!

  2. Good morning all,

    Glad Tartaus was okay with his first day alone in the new house Dawn.

    Hope you get Bruiser and Baby today Tina.

    I must say I do disagree with needing grow lights to start seedlings Tina. I have started them quite well without lights. Now I did have them on a table in a sunny window.

  3. I rarely start anything from seeds but when I do, I put them in the tray in the sunroom by the window with the most sun. The trick is to keep the cats out of it! LOL... I do plan to try my luck at starting some veggie seeds this year but am thinking that I am probably going to be sorry I did not wait until slips are in the stores!

    The Saint and I were in Lowes and I picked up one of those trays with lid. Then later that same day, we were in Wal-Mart where we spotting the same thing for $2.00 cheaper! Being the Cheapskate I am, I was not happy…

    Last year I started a couple of things from seed in a tray but I did not have a lid so I used plastic wrap from the kitchen! Worked well but decided to go with a real lid this year! LOL…

  4. Good Morning! Tina I have never started seed, but plan to this year. Like Skeeter I have a sunroom so rather than buy lights I will start them in it. I did buy the tray that Skeeter mentioned. I bought mine at Home Depot and it was some cheaper than they were at Lowe's. I was told that Rural King also had a good price on them.

    Jean glad to know that you have been sucessful without using the lights. Encouraging!

    Tina, please don't say I told you so, when I fail, just share some seedlings with me!

    If I am gonna get out of this house today, I must get the kitchen floor mopped and a bathroom scrubbed. Everyone have a good weekend.

  5. Skeeter when I find the same thing elsewhere cheaper I have been known to take the higher priced one back and get my money back. A lotta stores also will match prices from another store within 30 days.

  6. I just bought a ton of seeds today. From vegetables to annuals to perennials. I'll probably start mine with a grow light also. I have a couple in the garage that need to be set up, a gift from one of our neighbors. I have a lot of work ahead of me! Of course it's not really work if you enjoy it!

  7. Hi Tina, hope your enjoying the nice day we're having --a bit windy but much warmer. I agree with you Jean --I'd buy the cheaper one and then return the more expensive one when I was back at the first store. I won't make a special trip --saving on gas, lol. I've never started seeds inside before so these pointers are great. I first have to make hubby straighten up the garage and shelves if I even wanted to start some seedlings. He has control over that area --for now:) I hope those puppies came home today:) Hi Nina, I did plant some spider type seeds (can't think of the name) in a flowerbox off my shed. And, today one little green sprout has already popped up:) I am pretty excited and will keep you posted --must check on some kiddos. Ciao!

  8. Well Jean I did think of it and have done just that but at the price of gas these days, it would not have been worth it to return them. Would have ended up costing me more in the end!

    We had to go to 3 different Lowes garden centers today but we found 4 three gallon Silverberry’s! First Lowes only had the Compact type and the second only had 2 remaining. Then we went to a nursery and they had never heard of Silverberry and thought I was talking about something else. If I had thought, I would have taken them to the truck and shown them the ones we had from Lowes! Maybe they only know it from the proper name. Oh well, so we drove on the other side of town to our third Lowes and found the other 2 we needed! Yea, we are ready to plant them! We ended up with the 3-gallon ones at $15.00 each verses the 1-gallon at $5.00. I want them to grow as quickly as they can to hide the ugly next door! LOL..... Hopefully the ground is not too wet to plant them tomorrow...

    They also had a Close-out on fertilizer for St Augustine grass at $5.00 a bag which normally runs about $20 a bag! We picked up 10 bags and we saved a pile of money! So we were happy we ended up across town for the last bushes! It is early for the fertilizer but we have it when the time is right!

    Veggie slips are in the garden centers here too! And pansies are all over town in landscaping! Looks beautiful around town now. We cant get pansies because the deer love them!

    Tina, the two Silverberry at one store had berrys on them and some tiny blooms and also were not as silver on the top side. The other ones from another Lowes did not have any berrys, blooms and were more silver spotted looking on the leaf. Why would that be? We were thinking maybe male and female plants…?....

  9. Skeeter I didn't mean make a special trip. Like Anonymous time you are there as you have 30 days. But I guess if you wanna plant em tomorrow you can't do that either.

  10. hi all,
    busy day out of town. you don't necessarily need lights, i just don't have a sunny enough window and even if i did it would never hold enough seeds! i found this way economical but probably costly due to the electricity!:)

    dawn with peaches, never seen a heated flower box. that would probably help extend your season in maine.

    mom, i do always remember you starting seeds successfully. you do have that bright sunny house so that helps!

    skeeter, that is frustrating when you find things cheaper. i'm with you, sometimes it is not worth taking it all back just for the difference. just drive on and forget about it.

    nina, you'll be fine with your seeds. those nicotiana work so well. just put on top of soil and keep moist. you will be giving me some!

    dave, tell us what you are going to start? do you start veggie seeds? how many total?

    hi anonymous, i remember your garage being pretty neat, especially with those pretty poinsettias in there. hey all, anonymous's poinsettias were looking bad, she then stuck them in her garage and they have since perked up. they look great.

    skeeter, i tell you, guys in the nursery trade are not really all that educated with plants. you kind of have to know what you want. try eleagnus pungens next time you go in. they may have it listed under that. i had a real hard time finding mine here but then right down the road at the garden place karen had tons! she is small compared to some of the nurseries i called looking for them.

    $15 a piece for 3 gallon is an excellent price. 3 gallon should be pretty good sized and in about 4 years they will be at least 6-7 feet tall, maybe taller depending on how much sun they get. i am trying to be conservative. they stay thick but i do hand prune mine to direct the growth. i have never sheared them and you can do that as well. your preference. you've seen them grow. just have patience, they will accomplish the goal.

    how big were the berries? i can't say i have ever noticed any on mine but berries are a bonus. i think the birds like them and i also believe they may be edible. i may have to check that one.

    puppy cj is chewing me up. she has become attached to me now. she has been out of the crate all weekend and sleeping with the jimster. she has done great but waundered off today. i was not happy. she travels well.

    i did not get baby and bruiser. maybe tomorrow but probably monday since the vet clinic is closed. they are doing great though as i did call. both are much better. should be fun with triplets in the house. i hope they are as good together as they are separate like cj. mia and bruiser were ok but they were sick too. cj likes tennis balls. that is very good.

    well anyhow. talk to you all later.

  11. Nina, thanks so much. I really appreciate it. When I worked and made good money I used to do what I could but now that I don't work, well Social Security does not pay so good so I am more than ready to save a penny

    Thanks for send me Nina's codes Tina.

    Tina I am going to start some seeds this year but I sure do not know where. The library table is a great place....big and in a sunny picture window but....I have a huge houseplant on the it now and it does not like to be moved Very heavy to move anyway). I had to move it at Christmas time as I put one of the trees on it and it lost most of its leaves. Only been back there a week as I let it stay on the dinning room table and already there are a bunch of new leaves. I don't know what it is (it came from Mary's after she died) but Eilzabeth wanted it. She said what it is but I can't remember. It is very big and has large thorns on it with small sorta oval leaves and little pink flowers. I do remember it had thorn in the name.

    Glad the pups are doing good and you had twins so you can handle triplets. What is one more? LOL

    Anonymous....Good job on the poinsettias! I had one this year from last year for the first time ever. It looks good but did not bloom. It had buds on it but they went bye-bye. Maybe next year.

  12. Hi All,
    Having trouble with this thing all day-ready to throw it in garbage.

    I think I may have a good spot to start seeds--in my utility room. It's not heated but warm from hot water heater & dryer. Will have to try that later.

    Glad the babies are doing better. Maybe Mon. the other 2 can come home.

    I too am all for saving money. Gas is out of this world. I agree SS does not pay enough. So I only go when necessary.

    I have been browsing the net checking on plants. I like to try the new ones. I have hostas on the East side but need more. I saw some on line that are on sale. Real good price--may order a couple. There again postage is getting crazy too.

    Ah for good old days when things were simpler & less expensive.

  13. hey mom and lola,
    mom, i have no idea what plant you are talking about. but i am sure it is lovely as i have talked about your houseplants on here before. what kind of seeds are you going to start? get heather involved with it too and i am sure christy will help as she is able to. growing seeds would be a fun project for mimi and the grandkids to do together.

    lola, computers are frustrating but it looks like yours is working at least for commenting. what kinds of seeds are you going to start?

    have you divided your hostas? that is an easy way to get more unless you want more varieties. mine get divided so often they never grow big unless they have somehow managed to escape my notice when i am moving things around. lol i think they try to hide when i come around with my trusty shovel!

  14. Hi Jean --it is nice to know you kept your pointsettia going from last year. I don't know if I will be that lucky. But, I am going to try to get it outside when it warms up --"if" it lasts:) It certainly will be an accomplishment --hahaha. I think it likes the garage --Tina mentioned it might be because it's a little cooler/moist than the house. Have a great night and enjoy your snow --I sure don't miss it --pretty to look at but slows things down like driving and school/work. Ciao

  15. Tina,
    I think the problem all along was the server. They did an update & all went to pieces. Anyway I hope it's fixed.
    I have different seeds that I need to get started. Some are for hanging pots & some for ground. Cigar plant is 1. Spiral Ginger, Morning Glory--Red Picotee, Kniolas Black-this one is rare,Flying Saucers. Cypress Vine, White. Not to mention all the others I have left over from last yr. My brother always put his saved seeds in the freezer. That seemed work for him. My hostas aren't big enough to divide & I've had them for yrs. They don't seem to do very good here but I do like them. Of course I brought them back from your know where.

    So glad you managed to save your poinsettias. They do seem to like the cooler temp. Enjoy you snow.

  16. Nice set-up!
    My husband built me a great shelf from PVC and regular shop lights (plans are on The best thing is that I can take the whole thing apart after transplanting and store it away.
    I adore it! (Tis sad, the things that make gardeners happy, eh? lol).
    But, I have almost too much shelf room now that I do most everything by the wintersowing method - no shelves or lights needed:


    I agree that light is a real necessity if you start from seed - I think that's where most people who've never grown from seed before run into trouble.
    Good luck with your seedlings!