So you've decided to take the plunge and try growing some of your bedding plants on your own from seed. Or perhaps you're already among the initiated, but have had some disappointing failures. I've found that instructions from seed sellers can vary considerably regarding the appropriate germination and growing conditions of a particular plant.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on February 20, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
The image on the right is of Meconopsis betonicifolia, considered the Holy Grail of Poppydom. Who could resist its fabulous blue color? Certainly not I. Finding no source for live plants, I was determined to grow it from seed. Neophyte that I was at that time, I ordered a packet of seeds from the first vendor I came across on the Internet. There were no instructions as to how to germinate and grow this plant. No matter. I was hooked. When the seeds arrived, my heart sank as I read the instructions on the packet. Not only was this one of the most difficult plants to propagate from seed, the only climate it could thrive in was the Pacific Northwest. I live in Iowa.
The famous Himalayan Blue Poppy
If you've been purchasing your spring bedding plants and hardy perennials at garden centers or via mail order in the past, why not try your hand at starting a few varieties from seed indoors this year? It's fun to get a head start on the upcoming garden season and will lift your spirits when you see those seedlings you've been nurturing poke their little green heads up through the soil. In these times of difficult economic circumstances, the fact that plants grown from seed can be much less expensive than those in bought in stores might be another motivator to try growing plants from seed. However, as my experience above illustrates, there are pitfalls that can trip you up. Growing seedlings indoors requires high quality seeds, a well-drained, disease-free growing medium, containers, proper temperature and moisture conditions, and adequate light.
The aim of this article is to arm you with knowledge about the ease of growing various varieties and to provide links (located at the end of this article) to helpful seed-starting resources.
In Table 1 below, I've listed flowering plants alphabetically and categorized them as (1) easy-to-grow, (2) some experience necessary, and (3) not worth the bother. With the category (1) plants, you simply sow the seed at room temperature, provide appropriate light, and don't let the seeding medium dry out. Category (2) plants bear seed that may be very tiny, difficult to handle, and often require cold treatment in order to germinate. The third category lists seeds that may not come true to the mother plant, may require a complicated temperature treatment (perhaps multiple shifts from cold to warm temperatures), may require skilled light treatment, may take an unusually long time to germinate (up to a year or more), or may not reach flowering size for many years (peony seed, for example, takes about five years).
An enthusiastic gardener for over 50 years, my first plant was a potted Ponderosa Lemon tree ordered from a comic book ad at age 15. I still have it, and itís still bearing lemons! My wife and I garden on 3/4 of an acre, both flowers and vegetables. Although our garden is private, it's listed with the Smithsonian Institution in its Archives of American Gardens and is on the National Register of Historic Places. We garden organically and no-till. Our vegetable garden contains a seed bank of vegetables brought to this country from Germany in the mid-1800s. For more info: http://davesgarden.com/community/blogs/m/LarryR/. Photos that appear in my articles without credit are my own.