When I saw one of the latest Ryan Gosling “Hey Girl” photos about seed catalogs I immediately thought of all my female gardener friends. Then I thought, “Wow, I need to start thinking about which seeds I’m going to get this year!” Then I wondered what an equivalent photo/comment would be for men. Perhaps a sexy picture of Angelina Jolie with the caption “Hey mister. What do you say we take off our shirts, crack a cold beer, and take a ride on the lawn mower?” Any thoughts, guys?
Back to my first thought – seeds for spring. I haven’t yet decided what I’m going to plant this year, but I thought I would share some seed germination tips, just in case this picture sparked the same idea for you. Although this post will generally focus on germinating seeds indoors, the concepts also apply to grass or any other plant you intend to germinate outdoors, particularly when it comes to moisture, sunlight, and fertilizer.
1. Containers – Seedlings need space. Planting in individual containers, or wide, shallow trays ensures that each seed has enough room to develop roots and gather moisture and nutrients from the surrounding soil. You can purchase containers designed specifically for starting seeds, or you can save some cash and be more eco-friendly by reusing old yogurt cups, or other small plastic food containers that you would normally recycle (or, gasp! throw away). Just make sure they are deep enough to hold at least an inch and a half of soil. Poke holes in the bottom of each container to allow excess water to drain out. Always make sure your containers have been thoroughly cleaned before you use them for germinating seeds. Even though you are filling them with dirt, it is important that there is no bacteria present.
2. Soil – You can use compost, store-bought starter soil mix (which usually isn’t actually soil), or peat moss mixed with sphagnum and vermiculite. Although it may be tempting and seems like an easy fix, you should not start indoor seedlings with soil from your outdoor garden. Yes, your plants will end up there anyway, and yes it’s okay to start outdoor seedlings in it, but seeds germinated in containers are more susceptible to the disease organisms that are inevitably in your outdoor soil. So, if you don’t compost, invest in a seed starting mix; you don’t need much and your chances of seedling success will be much greater.
3. Moisture – Placing your containers on an absorbent surface, like paper towels or cardboard, will allow excess water to drain through the holes in the bottom. Too much water will contribute to root rot, but too little moisture will prevent the seeds from germinating and growing. To keep moisture levels consistent, cover the containers with clear plastic wrap. If the soil starts to look too dry, rather than pouring water on top of the soil and possibly disturbing any germination activity that has already started, put the container in a tray with warm water, watering from the bottom up. To lightly water the surface, use a sprayer to apply a light mist. Take the plastic wrap off as soon as the seeds germinate; they will now need air to grow.
4. Sunlight – One of the coolest things about germinating seeds is watching how fast they grow. You can also see photosynthesis in action as the plants grow toward the sun, leaning their cute little plant bodies as far as they can toward the heat and light. Rotating your seedlings a quarter-turn on a daily basis will help increase the strength of the stems. Keep your seedlings in a warm place, ideally between 65 and 75 degrees, where they will receive sunlight for at least 12 hours a day.
5. Fertilizer – Seeds are really neat little packages. They have everything they need inside them to germinate into an actual plant. However, after germination, the seed has spent its nutrient stores and it’s up to you to feed the seedlings. When the plant’s first real leaves appear (not the tiny cute oval-shaped ones, but the ones that have their final shape), you should start to add nutrients to the container. Liquid fertilizers are best because the nutrients are more readily absorbed into the soil, and consequently to the plant’s roots. Use a diluted mix because seedlings don’t need as much as fully grown plants. Make sure your fertilizer has all three macro nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, because they are all important at this stage of growth.
Now, all I need to do is decide what to plant!