Questions RE: SeedStarting

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

I thought I would post some info that I D-Mailed to Pippi21 regarding seedstarting. I'm no expert, so perhaps others will offer some info.

We will start with the "Soil"

Here's the website of the Premier Pro-MIX BX (professional general potting soil) and Pro-MIX PGX (professional regular seed starting)

If you click on the Professional tab at the top, the different types will be listed at the left side. The BX that I use is with Mycorise. The PGX is regular.
Both are available in a 3.8 cu.ft compressed bale that weighs about 60+ lbs. I buy it in this size because it is the most economical for the amount that I use. You should be able to buy it packaged in smaller bags to suit your requirement. For wintersowing, I use either.

The gardening bug bit me about 8 years ago. I will send you a link of some before (10 years) and after of my yard. The 1st few years I bought small bags of the typical Miracle Grow potting or seedstarting mixes which started to really add up in cost as my obsession grew. Quite a few years ago, I started to buy a compressed bale of potting soil for containers from Costco, but it was too heavy so I would add perlite & vermiculite to it. Then I came across the Pro-Mix and buy that exclusively. The Pro-Mix is very easy to work with and doesn't have all the wood chips and such which is important if you like to work without gloves. Some of the seedstarting mixes have too much peat, which is either sopping wet or parched at any given time--- not great for the little baby seedlings. I hate the jiffy pellets. The mesh does no break down and acts as a wick which diverts the water away from the plant roots. If I buy some special bedding plants (which 99% were started in those peat pellets) I trim the mesh as much as possible. If possible, I slice the sides, bottom or remove it altogether. I have found that all the plants that were left in the peat pellets had an extremely puny root system at the end of the season. Small roots mean starving plant.

The perlite & vermiculite loosen up the soil so it has good oxygen flow and drainage for the root system. The 1st time I bought a mix that contained the perlite (I thought it was cheap filler of styrafoam) I didn't know the benefit it gives to the plant. You want good drainage because you don't want your plants to sit in soggy soil.

Perlite is natural, white volcanic rock that has been crushed & heated to expand like popcorn. It is very light weight and irregular shaped so it does not compact or rot. Water clings to it but is not absorbed, hence good drainage.

Vermiculite is expanded mica (a mineral). It will absorb water & hold it.

The difference between the seedstarting mix & container mix is the size of the particles in the soil mix - smaller for seedstarting. I really like the Pro-MIX products and the best is that it is ready to use without having to amend it. If you are shopping for the Pro-MIX, be careful with the HP mix. It is suggested for indoor/outdoor containers. I find it contains too much perlite & vermiculite and the BX is much better.

Adding a layer of fine (small particle size) vermiculite over newly sowed seeds controls the moisture evaporation. You will find that the surface will not become parched, which can inhibit surface sowed seeds from germinating.

The most important step when using potting soil mixes is ALWAYS pre moisten. Peat will initially repel the water and it will take about 15 minutes for the soil mix to absorb it. Use warm water too. Do not plant seeds or plants into dry soil mixes and water after. Pre-moisten soil allow control of how wet it will be for time of planting. If you squeeze a handful of soil mix, you should have a little trickle of water out and the soil will stay in ball shape. Too much/too little water is no good. When seeding do not compress the soil too much. You will inhibit the drainage and have green algae form.

Whew! That's a mouth full.

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

Light conditions for germination.

Basically follow the seed package instructions. All methods need good contact between the seed & the soilmix.

There are several seeds that need light to germinate. This means that you surface sow them and press lightly into the soil mix. I find misting them with water works great for the seeds to settle in the soil mix. You should be able to see the seeds. The seeds that are pelleted have a clay coating, so misting them speeds up germination if the seed requires light.

Some seeds need total darkness to germinate. So sow the seeds and cover with soil - the recommended depth is usually stated on the package. example 1/4 inch depth.

Some packages instruct surface sowing, but needs darkness to germinate. I find that it works better to just plant the seeds about a 1/4 deep than trying to cover the entire tray and hope you catch it at the right time when the seeds germinate, because they will need light then or they will parish.

Some seeds need good soil contact, but not planted too deep, so they get a bit of light. So about 1/8" deep. This is a good choice to surface sow and cover with a fine layer of vermiculite.

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

Scarification - (scratch or nick seed)

There are hard seeds that will not germinate unless the you scratch or nick the seed. I find the best way to deal with them is to soak them in a peroxide/water mix. It will soften the seed coat. Morning Glories are a good example

Stratification - (prechilling) (Wintersowing is a natural way to do this)

Prechilling doesn't always work by putting the seed package in the fridge. The seeds need to be in contact with moisture too. I have found that if you have room to seed (say in a egg carton) and then chill or put the seeds in a damp paper towel & baggy and refrigerate, you will get good results for germination. They will not actually germinate in the fridge. Chilling is part of the breaking dormancy, so after a few weeks of chilling, move your egg carton or seed the seeds into a soil mix and place in a well lit warm area for germination. top of the fridge works good.

Helpful link

This message was edited Dec 22, 2009 11:13 AM

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

Feeding seedlings.

I don't usually fertilize the wintersown stuff, but if you want to it would be the same as other seedlings. I use a diluted fish (stinky) fertilizer for all my seedlings after they form the 2nd set of leaves - once a week

Epsom Salts help with the plants to uptake the nutrients. A must for beautiful roses

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

Choosing your wintersowing sowing seeds.

Any seed packages that state: Sow as soon as the ground can be worked; early spring; late fall; direct seed; X # of weeks before last frost etc

All good choices.

I would think that end of Feb would be a good time to start ws in your area. You would probably be ok to start planting them in there summer home mid April to mid May. I think that ws is about a month gain to direct seeding. So if you would normally direct seed April 1st for a specific annual, then ws it March 1st.

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

Preventing Damping Off:

If you wintersow, you don't need to worry about this. If you start seeds indoors, you do. Basically the little seedling will just up & die. It's like it rots at the base of the seedling. Some seedlings are more susceptible to this than others. I use a product called damp-off in my water to prevent this. Chamomile tea and/or hydrogen peroxide will also help prevent damping off.

This message was edited Dec 22, 2009 11:32 AM

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

If you are starting seeds indoors under lights:

Use bulbs that are recommended or one cool & one warm fluorescent in combo to acquire a close to fully spectrum of light

Position the seedtray so the plants are about 2 inches below the lights. Watch out for plants that bolt - you will have leaf damage it it touches the bulbs.

Run a fan so there is good air circulation and prevent problems. The fan also strengthens the plant so they will have thicker stocks and will be able to handle the wind outside. If you do not have a fan, run your hand across the seedlings daily.

No need to do any of this if you are wintersowing

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

So, like I said, I'm not an expert or have special horticultural education, just my own home gardening experience. Your added advice or comments are appreciated.

Barnesville (Charle, GA(Zone 8b)

I think everything sounds just like what I need. I am going to "try" starting my own seed and I have "Damp-off" problems so i am going to give it a try. Lord know I have enough seed, so maybe some of them will live☺
I saw pic in another forum and you have a beautiful plants.
Thank you

Huffman, TX(Zone 9a)

TTTHHHHHHAAAAAANNNNNNNNNKKKKKKKK you I have been having all kinds of seed starting problems as in very few work for me. I have tried for two years to get my red bud and mimosa seeds that I picked from my own trees to germinate with no luck also I am trying to get some ginko and tulip poplar seeds started zero luck. Most flower seeds and seeds like veggies I don't have a problelm with and I have had great luck with orchid trees and flowering maple giants I have a bunch of them. I will follow your instructions and try try try again.

Kerrville, TX(Zone 8a)

Hi J.B.

I just came across your seed germination instructions and will print them out. The book "From Seed To Bloom" is in my collection but hasn't really rectified my germination problem. The Pro-Mix sounds like it would be a good solution. Suppose I would need the one with fungicide since we have so much rain/moisture here.

Thanks a lot for your information.

Kerrville, TX(Zone 8a)

OMG, this eggshell idea is wonderfu!

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

Thanks rides, rucky & flowerette.

My favorite seeding instructions from a catalog is Stokes Seeds. The have a great website with detailed instructions.
I have The New Seed-Starters Handbook by Nancy Bubel that I do use for reference from time to time.

One of the most helpful references that I bought is the Garden Gate magazine Starting Seeds DVD. you can order it thru
It is available with the book mentioned above and some fish fertilizer as a kit.


Here's a direct link to the seedstarting how-to kit

Cool egg shell idea!

This message was edited Jan 2, 2010 11:47 AM

Thumbnail by joannabanana
Weedville, PA(Zone 6a)

Great info. Here's some more info on damp off that I've used and it's great too

A fan in the room great way to prevent damp off too. You don't aim it right at the plants, just let it circulate the air. It can oscilate gently past the seedlings, but you don't want it blowing them down.

I've used cinnamon and chick grit, as recommended at the Tom Clothier site, and it works great. Cinnamon smells good too. Also have used chammomile tea for top watering.

Check out here
see the individual lists for germination info on individual seed types.
There is also the SeedSite for germination info on individual seeds

Hope that helps!

Kerrville, TX(Zone 8a)

Thanks everyone for all the info. Joanna should write her own seed book :) I have seen the pictures of her garden, and they are absolutely gorgeous and with so few gardening months.

Calgary, Canada

Joanne does a tremendous job with seeding and growing her own plants.
I have seen her garden and it is more beautiful than the pictures!

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

Thanks Carol & Caroline.

Carol, Although we have a short season, I start up with indoor seed starting in January so within the next few weeks I will be busy.

Caroline, You will need to visit my garden this year for sure. Like always, it is under construction. The next door neighbor has removed 8 mature 50+ foot spruce trees so that has opened up all kinds of options. There will be some big changes to the front yard.


Calgary, Canada

I will look forward to visiting your garden this summer.
I was going to start begonia seeds this weekend,but didn't get it done.
Sometime this week---I'll start.

Silver Spring, MD(Zone 6b)

I emailed the company that makes/distributes Promix products and have not heard from them yet. That was way over a week ago. Will try again. I also email the Corporate Offices of Lowe's about them not carrying the Promix products in any of their stores within 50 or more miles from here. I have called around to the local nurseries and only one sells the Fafard and that's 20 miles away. The others claim they don't have their gardening soils,etc out yet. Duh! So guess I'll buy MG from HD which is only a mile away. It would cost too much for the shipping to order it online, plus Promix is twice the price of that is a factor but I might break down if I can find one or the other for my container plants. I want mine to look like yours!

Silver Spring, MD(Zone 6b)

Joanne, I have been subscribing to Garden Gate Magazine for years and keep all my back issues in the binders that you can purchase from them. When we moved, I probably gave a friend of ours about 5 yrs. of back issues. All their publications are great too. I think the one's I ordered a few months ago were only $9.95..and they are beautiful magazines/paperback type books. I was looking at that book by Nancy Bubel..and the CD and I think I'll order that. The library may have the book but not the CD.. I wished they had a lot more cd..these you use in your computer. I had to call and see if it was just audio or one that you use in your computer. GG magazine is my favorite gardening magaine and I recently went through all the copies and looked at them over again and highlighted stuff I'd missed the first time I read them. Amazing what one misses when they first get a magazine and looks at it for first time.

Kerrville, TX(Zone 8a)

Hey, Joanne, if we show up in our RV, are we invited, too. :) :)

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

Absolutely !!

Columbia City, IN(Zone 5b)

joannabanana,Very well said,all of your information.Last year was my 1st at starting seeds under lights or at all,I did every thing you have said ,I just followed my gut ,dh was no you dont need a fan ,by the end of the whole thing He was really helpful,Ive got all new lights,he even gave me shelves out of the garage.He asked yesterday when are going to start!! Iam going to try the promix,Icant remember if I used mg ,had great luck with it,a litttle pricey.Thanks great stuff : }

Myrtle Beach, , SC(Zone 9a)

That's some great input on seed starting...especially Joanna.
I like to keep it simple..the right temp...above 75 degrees typically...I haven't had to use grow mats or lights...I have sunny windowsills and last year bought a Greenhouse.
I do find soil is the big differential for success. A moisture retaining soil mix retains 30% more water...preventing over watering and under watering. It also hits right to the root zone. I also like feertilizer in with my soi mix...preferably compost and processed cow a slow feed and I like fish emuslion ans seaweed apray for the quick shot in the arm.
There are some terrific seed starting tips at Also, check out my new Hot Pepper online catalog at I also have several growing tips there as well. Great Gardening!

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

This message was edited Mar 9, 2015 12:12 PM

Columbia City, IN(Zone 5b)

blomma,ahh yes that was one more thing I learned last yr,not to cover eenie seed !!

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

The seed packages should have sowing depth instructions and/or will state total darkness or needs light to germinate. I normally follow the package sowing instructions with the exception of any (examples: Salpiglossis, Schizanthus) that advise surface sowing and then putting the sowed tray into darkness for X number of days. I guess it is for the reasons that blomma mentioned of tiny seeds- so surface sowing is recommended. I do not surface sow anything that requires darkness for germination, no matter how small the seed size. These are sowed 1/4" deep, and put under lights. The 1/4" of soil provides the darkness. I have not had a problem with the seedling emerging thru the 1/4" of soil. This method works for me and germination is very successful.

The seeds that need stratification (chilling to break dormancy). If you seed your seeds into an egg carton and then put in the fridge for the X number of days, germination is much higher. Or dampened soil mix in a baggy and seeds mixed in or damp paper towel method, chilled for the number of days first. I have found that the seed needs moisture and cool temps together . Sticking the seed package in the fridge, dry seed, does not always work to break dormancy.

Surface sowing pelleted seeds. Pre moisten soil (always pre moisten soil for everything and let stand for 5 to 10 min for good water absorption) fill tray cells with the damp soil mix. Press the pelletted seed into the soil mix. Should bee able to seed it. Then mist or spray water on all the cells to dissolve the clay coating. This is especially important for pelletted petunia seeds that require the light to germinate. It also settles the seed with good soil contact. You can also add the damping off preventative such as chamomile tea to the spray.

This message was edited Jan 9, 2010 9:23 AM

Weedville, PA(Zone 6a)

I haven't had time to read all of the new posts but I breezed thru them quick. Pippi, I did read yours...and I'm in basically the same boat as you. No one around me sells the good stuff...I have to travel to get it, over an hour. It ends up being a day trip and way out of my budget. I just wanted you to know that you can mix your own soil or soilless mixtures. I've done it.

I once did tests, mixing up different soils to see which did better...MG soil, my own mix of MG soil, organic ferts or a few other ferts that a few friends wanted me to try. My MG mix performed exactly the same as theirs. HA! Sure, it was a little bit more work, but it was a lot cheaper in the end...and I had TONS of soil that I could mix perfectly for each different type of plant that I was working with. THAT was great. No one seems to remember that soil didn't used to come in bags, LOL! We're just too used to convenience.

I've never gotten to mix my own soilless mixture, but I may do it this year. If you want ProMix we just have to find out EXACTLY what's in it, then make our own. It's not that hard to do. I'm sure someone on here will share with us what the bag says, or we can find it online. We'll get you set up, don't worry. All the ingredients you need can be found at either Wal-Mart or the hardware store. Before you know it you'll be up to your ears in homemade ProMix. :)

Weedville, PA(Zone 6a)

Ok, according to their website the Ultimate Seeding Mix is made from

Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss
(65-75% by volume)

Perlite (fine grade)
Limestone (for pH adjustment)
MYCORISEŽ - endomycorrhizae inoculant

This is a very easy to copy recipe, other than the Mycorise. Let me do a little research on that. Be back in a bit...

Huffman, TX(Zone 9a)

I mix my own soils because I don't like the MG soil I use bag cow manure, compost , perlite and vermiculite and peat but I don't have a recipe for a good seed starting mix .I am working on it though. I have tried adding sand to keep the soil loose I am going to try more perlite with it But so far it hasn't had me jumping up and down I might have to try promix if I can find it,

Weedville, PA(Zone 6a)

Well, ok...I'm not going to open up a can of worms here. Please folks, no arguing about Mycorise...because that's about all I've found on the web. *Sigh*

Mycorise is mycorrhizal fungus. Some argue for it, some argue against it. Some say it's great to have at the start of seeding. Some say you don't need it because the fungi will show up if you've taken care of your soil (Mycorrhizal fungi come from cold composting from what I've read). Whatever. This won't turn into an argument, I'm sure! ;)

I like organic gardening...that's just me. To each his/her own. I can see the benefits of adding Mycorrhizal fungus. I can see why someone would think it's a waste of money too. One thing that needs to be understood about Mycorrhizal fungi is that there are a million different kinds of them. Only certain ones work with certain plants. Basically what they do is attach themselves to the root system and help the plant absorb nutrients better. That's way oversimplified, but that's it in a nutshell. If you have good, organic soil you most likely already have them in your garden soil...that's one argument. If you're like me, starting a new garden (for the 3rd time) you don't have them yet.

You can buy them. Yepper. Online. Oh, yeah, you can buy EVERYTHING these days...didn't ya know?? LOL! I'm not real into this idea. I did look at one place and they were selling the stuff for about $10 a cup (yes an 8 oz cup). Rate of application is 1/4 teaspoon per seed, enough for 192 seeds. That would be a fun project. They sell smaller and larger quantities. The website is at Click on "product catalog" for pricing then on "info" in the list to see app info. It's interesting anyway.

I've seen the comparison pics on the web and, apparently, mycorrhizal fungi do make a difference. I'd guess the earlier the better. However, my case is that we never used to use this stuff, I mean, our Grandparents never did...they had some awesome 'maters and petunias. Heck, I never used it before and I've had some awesome stuff. I don't think I NEED it. If you want it, let me know how it works for you. PLEASE send me pics, I'd LOVE to see them!! :)

Ok, enough about that hooplah...on to the basic recipe now...

Weedville, PA(Zone 6a)

I have to repost it after all that chatter....

Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss
(65-75% by volume)

Perlite (fine grade)
Limestone (for pH adjustment)
MYCORISEŽ - endomycorrhizae inoculant

Ok, this is very simple. They actually are telling us how much to use. It doesn't get much simpler than that folks! When ingredients are listed they are in order of content. Whatever the mixture contains the most of is listed first. We are going to need something to measure our pH tho, but I promise if you don't already have something you'll use it forever in your garden.

Ok, so 65-75% Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss. That's your regular, Wal-Mart variety Peat Moss. Check the bag out when you buy it. Somewhere on it it'll be stamped "Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss"...the Canucks are very proud of their Peat Moss (as they should be!!)...they stamp it all.

Perlite, also available at WM. FINE GRADE. Watch for that. Perlite does have grades and it makes a huge difference. Buy the wrong one once and you'll find out. If WM doesn't have fine grade check out Lowe's or HD. If they don't have it ask about ordering it...or even check online, it shouldn't cost much to get it shipped, the stuff weighs nothing. Maybe even ship it to store? If you can't find it let me know and I'll dig it up somewhere. Nurseries and garden centers are also a good source. Even if they aren't open yet, give them a call, most likely someone is there working right now.

Lastly is Limestone for pH adjustment. Now, this isn't the limestone we're used to seeing, the white chunks we use to decorate...but basically the same. It's just lime. Ground up limestone. Gee, that was hard to figure out. Lime can be purchased at pretty much any hardware store (Lowe's, HD, Ace, etc). You want garden lime. Here's a hint for anyone who's never worked with lime...don't let it get turns into a brick. Keep it in a tote if you have to keep it outdoors! Ok, test your mix's pH before you add your lime. The ProMix has a pH between 5.5 - 7.0. Tom Clothier's site recommends 5.8. See, this is the other great thing. You can tailor this to your seed's needs! Add your lime and test, get the pH where you want it and you're ready to go.

One thing I'd like to add...please take into consideration the pH of your water. It will make a huge difference. Test your water's pH. Test your soil with bottled water and with tap water and see the difference. You may need to adjust your soil's pH simply because of your water.

I'd also like to suggest you read Tom Clothier's page on Soilless Mixes and Amendments. I like to stick with that site because it's been around for a long time. It's tried and true :)

Weedville, PA(Zone 6a)

Rucky, what is your basic mix that you are adding sand to? I'm not a big fan of adding sand to anything...that's just me tho. If someone else has success with it that's great. I never seem to. It just seems to make everything stick together. Here in PA we have clay soil. Someone once told me to NEVER add clay to the soil because clay + sand = brick. I guess that's just how I always think of sand now. Wet sand = brick no matter what. Just me tho.

If you want looser soil...think about what you want to create...air pockets. Sand seems too small to do that to me. Perlite would probably work better. Depending on what you're using the mix for you could probably also use some bark chips...that's just compost. If you can use something that's going to add nutrients to the soil that's all the better for the soil and the plants that are in it.

Huffman, TX(Zone 9a)

I used sandbox sand it doesn't hold water and helps keep the soil loose for seed starting I don't really add a lot probably 10 to 1 ratio dirt to sand. I like to use Peat moss I get at Lowes in a huge block and I use perlite and vermiculite and I just mix it in a large wheel barrel with cow manure and bag humus or compost. I use a hoe to mix it all together I only use a little sand for the seed starter lke I said I am just trying out the sand I'm trying to keep the soil from packing down amd getting hard. I use extra perlite and vermiculite for the seed starter also. Like I said it seems to be working ok the soil is still loose and the seeds are starting to pop up now.

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

This message was edited Mar 9, 2015 12:14 PM

Thumbnail by blomma
Weedville, PA(Zone 6a)

Great info blomma!! Something I just read about freezing seeds that I had never known before...I think I read it on the Tom Clothier site (I LOVE that site) said to never freeze seeds in the kitchen freezer. It can fracture the membranes inside the seeds because it freezes too quickly. How 'bout that?? Who knew? It said your best bet is just what you listed above, to set them outdoors, best bet is in a cold frame.

I've never put seeds in a freezer. For those type of seeds I always winter sow (WS) or just scatter them in the fall on open ground.

I think my fav way of sowing has got to be WS...just because I'm lazy, lol. It also seems to be less messy, but that's probably only because you don't see the mess every 10 minutes, it can make your yard/garden look pretty trashy if you don't have a place to hide all of those milk jugs. I just tell the neighbors I'm starting a recycling garden, lol.

Calgary, Canada

There is nothing trashy about making the world a better place and if WS milkjugs help then they are not trashy.
I could hide my WS jugs behind the house, but they would get less light so I have mine right out in the front driveway.
I consider green monocultures as trashy.

Weedville, PA(Zone 6a)

I consider green monocultures as trashy.

That made my day!!! I think I'm going to quote you forever on that one! Not only that but I will now proudly display my WS containers...even if it's until July when they get planted, LOL!

Calgary, Canada

I am slowly ( a little each year) getting rid of the green monoculture and first replacing it with wildflowers and reseeding annuals. In later years I want to develop some of it as an alpine rock garden.

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

This message was edited Mar 9, 2015 12:17 PM

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