Use a sterile starting mix and cover your seeds no more than 1/4 of it's thickness with soil. Spray with warm water and cover with plastic wrap. Put on a heat mat and they should germinate in about three to four days. Try to keep temperature around 72F.
The instructions given are good for starting seeds indoors in general, except that the temperature need not be so precise. "Room temperature", which is around 70 deg F (20 deg C), has been found to be optimum for seed starting, and heat mats are not required (unless you are starting seeds in a cold area where it is significantly below room temperature). As far as starting geranium seeds, you should look into the requirements of the specific species you want to start, as to whether they need stratification, and how long you can expect them to take to germinate.
No, stratification is not "nicking"; it's subjecting the seeds (in a moist medium, not dry) to alternating cool (~40 deg F) and warm (~70 def F) periods, of at least a couple of months each, to break dormancy (actually, to overcome the seeds' natural germination inhibitors). To find out which species actually need stratification (not all do), you can look it up from various sources: Tom Cothier website, Norm Deno's books, some of the more advanced seed catalogues, etc...
"Nicking" refers to cutting into, abrading (e.g. filing) or clipping the hard seed coat of certain seeds to hasten germination. It's typically done with seeds of various pea family plants that have hard seed coats, not generally needed with perennial geraniums. The more usual term for this is "scarification".
Edit: Although, despite what I said above, I got great, rapid germination of Geranium magniflorum after scarifying by rubbing the seeds on a file.
We had one Geranium last year, and just for the heck of it, I collected a few seeds from it to try it.
I have never grown them before, but here is my very first one. Looking at it very closely, i have found that it is just starting to get it's second set of leaves, but you can't see that on the picture. ^_^
I'll be around, if you have any questions, although I certainly don't know everything, so everyone feel free to chime in.
There's two things to mainly consider: pests and oxygen.
The dampoff fungus is in the pest department, and it's a good idea to begin with clean, sterile pots and soil (or soilless seed-starting medium). I try to wash my used pots in soapy water and then dip in a solution of 1 part clorox to 9 parts water and then dry out.
There's easier ways to sterilize your seed starting medium, but what I do is to place 3" or 4" pots or 6-packs filled with seed starting medium inside our turkey roaster; then I pour boiling water slowly into the roaster without making the pots float; then I put on the top of the turkey roaster and wait 15 or 20 minutes for the pots to absorb the heat and water; then I take them out to drain and cool. Once drained and cool, I sow the seed.
Sterility is key, and there are other ways to achieve it.
Different plants have different requirements here, so these are general comments regarding oxygen, which can discourage formation of dampoff fungus.
-- I like to add a quart of perlite to a small bag of seed starting medium, because being slightly larger than the other ingredients of a soil starting mix, the perlite particles help to create pockets where air can go, bringing oxygen with it. Roots need oxygen, too. (Peat is good to add too, as it has antiseptic properties - I use amounts equal to what I use of perlite. Ratios can vary depending on the plants' needs) Somehow the perlite also simultaneously encourages drainage as well as water retention. Drainage facilitates aeration of the soil, necessary for oxygen for roots.
-- The scented geraniums (pelargonium species) I have grown like dry-ish conditions. So be sure to let them dry out a bit between waterings - especially the surface, which is why I prefer to water from the bottom, but the above thread will show how to water from the top without deluging the seedlings. Excessively moist conditions can enable dampoff fungus.
-- Another key technique for fostering oxygen in a seedlings' root environment is hydrogen peroxide (H202). When H202 breaks down, the oxygen becomes available in the soil to the seedlings' roots. I use 3% strength from the drug store, and I mix about a teaspoon of H202 per pint or gallon of water. When watering a tray of seedlings, I pour the H202 solution into a tray, and then lower a mesh-bottom tray of my seedlings in their pots into that. The seedlings must be lifted out as soon as you see water reaching the surface of their pots and drained.
-- Regarding surface air, a fan can help if you're starting seeds indoors. Since cats rule our tiny house, I time my germination of seeds needing warm temps to germinate so that as soon as I see the green backs of germinating seeds I put them outdoors, where I have never had a damp off problem. But racoons rule out there and that's another story...
I have germinated hardy geraniums with the winter sowing method: www.wintersown.org - I have never experienced dampoff fungus with winter sowing - to me, wintersowing is easier than the above method, but not all plants like to be winter sown, although some can be germinated with both warm and cold temps - a fascinating paradox from Mother Nature.
The baggy method is another way to ameliorate dampoff fungus and other soil borne diseases - http://www.robsplants.com/seed/baggy.php . A variation on the baggy method is to put individual pots of sown seeds into a baggy. Some like to put 1/3 perlite on top in the pot and soilless mix on the bottom to cut down on possible soil-borne pathogens. Then put the pot in a baggy. But don't do this outdoors, because the combination of sun and plastic will fry your seeds/seedlings.
Seedlings are less likely to be struck down with dampoff fungus, if they are being germinated and grown in conditions that particularly suit their individual needs. So, following is a link to several links helpful along this line: http://cubits.org/ellasgarden/thread/view/40037/
WOW Karen... so much information. Thank you for the time you spent on this. My damping off came in the 72 cell jiffy seed starters. I used thier little peat pellets that swell when you add water. I did add some cinnamon and peroxide to them, but I think I may of done it too late. I guess I will pitch all of those cells that had plants come up then die off, and try it again with new pellets. This time I will add the H2O2 to the water that I put in them to make them swell. I always use a seed starting mixture when I start seeds in other containers. I did do some WS'ing and most of them are doing well. I'm about ready to start moving them, as it is May 1 and that is when I trust we will not have anymore freezing weather. However, our low temp tomorrow is suppose to be 40.
Crit - I certainly wish you luck on your next attempt and hope you'll post here about how it goes. Since I don't consider myself out of the woods when it comes to starting seeds with warm temps indoors, I'm sure I'll learn right along with you.
We might be getting a few nights in the mid-40's here in a couple of days - am hoping it's not too late to try to sow just a few poppy seeds. Will save most of them to try and wintersow next winter, because even if these seeds do germinate, we usually get some pretty hot temps by the end of this month that can fry anything loving cool temps all crispy. Right now I'm envying folks up north in Massachusetts etc. who can grow such great poppies...and delphiniums...and sweet peas and...and...sigh
And you are how many miles from the Yukon??? 38*F certainly isn't very nice for peppers - I understand below 50 is stressful for them. But if my memory is working, 28*F is okay for petunias. Snapdragons will probably be fine...and mustards and lettuce. I'd worry about zinnias.
If you have anything like sweet peppers in the ground, inverting pots or buckets or boxes or bags over them would be helpful - anything actually - but a sheet of plastic would work better if draped over a support rather than directly upon any tender pretties
I'm a weekend gardener, so start all seeds in self-watering trays that use capillary matting to keep the cells bottom-watered. Once I started using peroxide in all watering I had no more damp-off problems. Here's a site with all the info:
I also added Superthrive to the water this year, which seems to have made a difference.
Yesterday I planted the pelargoniums I started from purchased seed in February, first time I've tried them. I lost some seedlings by keeping the plastic cover on too long, but got a few out before they rotted and they did beautifully.
Pfg - the hydrogen peroxide site was interesting. Good thing to know about.
lusarytole - If you are still having "damping off" problems, I just switched from peat to vermiculite and I already like it better. It just stays the right amount of wet much better than peat.
I also remove my plants to the greenhouse or the great outdoors as soon as they sprout. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is move the small plants outside without shocking them to death. I just fool them into thinking they have been out there the whole time. Of course this won't work if it's too cold outside.
Can I put my newly purchased geranium plants in the ground yet? I have been putting them out during day and in the garage at night for about 3 weeks now, but growing weary of this. Temperatures are still predicted on certain days to go down to 50 or 52 degrees (mostly between 4 and 6 in the morning. Should they be able to take this for 2 or 3 hours per night? I am in zone 7A on Long Island ,NY
Thanks for any info you can give me.