The 2011 Seed Starting Thread!

Watertown, WI(Zone 5a)

Now that we've been talking seed catalogs and what we're ordering for a while, I thought I'd start a thread so we can show off what we're growing!

The first of my baby herbs have made an appearance. From left to right, these are catnip (for tea), chives, cilantro and basil.

Thumbnail by KaylyRed
Bloomington, IN(Zone 6a)

I'm starting 11 types of perennial seeds, most of which have a stratification period. I think I confused myself by doing too much research, finding that germination success varies depending on variables such as temperature, how long at that temp, pregerminating, etc. So, I decided to make it REALLY complicated and use 2 or 3 method per seed type. : ) The spreadsheet I made is confusing me, but I have little pots in the fridge, in an area of the basement that's 40F, another at 50F, etc. I should have just thrown 'em all on the ground and see what comes up in the spring!! Will report as progress is made . . .

Dundee, IL

May I ask where you got the seed starting flat? It looks more sturdy than most available at the local home store...

BTW - thanks for the inspiration I need to get started!

Leesburg, FL(Zone 9b)

sherriseden -- that is why i love winter sowing... no fuss no muss. just stick'em out in the snow and hope for the best.

Watertown, WI(Zone 5a)

Hostamomma - The flats are Burpee's Ultimate Growing System. They're on the expensive side for a seed starting flat, but I've found that they work amazingly well. I bought one and once I saw how well my seedlings were germinating and growing I went out and bought a second. Here's a link:

They have a self-watering mat with a tray that you add water to about once a week, just to keep it topped off. The seedlings never stand in water, they just get a moisture supply what wicks up from the mat. I've had zero problems with damping off. I've noticed a few customer comments on the Burpee site about difficulty getting seedlings out, which renders the flat unusable. I've had no such problems. I use either a butter knife or a fork to gently lift the seedlings out of each cell. Works like a charm. (I should add that re-potting the seedling while it's still lying on the fork tines makes things super simple for me. The fork makes it so that I never touch the seedling or tug on any stems, leaves or roots.)

I suppose a $20 kit isn't for everyone, but I've got two of them and I'm going on my second year using them and, although I also use cheap flats, I like the Burpee ones the best. I'll probably pick up another two this year. I find them at Stein's Garden Center here in WI.

Bloomington, IN(Zone 6a)

Kayley, your seedlings are beautiful and the flat sounds great! Your right about some customer complaints - I think lots of folks are new and just don't know how to handle seedlings yet. (Actually, tomatoes like their roots to be roughed up a bit!)

I did something different this year with containers: I noticed that plugs do really well and I think it's the long root system they develop. So, I scoped out same size containers (about 2" X 5"). They have red plastic caps on either end. On one end, I punch holes for drainage. Then I got little green baskets at the Dollar Store with webbing in the bottom. Now, all I have to do is bottom water by putting the basket with "plugs" in a tray of water. I think it will work but not sure!

Here's what I'm starting with a short version of the various sowing methods for each (I've got seeds all over at various temps - poor DH)

Agastache rupestris (Sunset Hyssop) 1) Direct sow May 2) Start inside March
Amsonia tabernaemontana Eastern Bluestar 1) Direct sow Jan 2) 35F stratification in fridge Jan
Aquilegia vulgaris 'Leprechaun Gold' 1) Direct sow Jan 2) 40F stratification basement Jan
Heuchera americana 'Marvelous Marbles' 1) Direct sow Jan 2) 50F stratification basement Jan
Hyssopus officinalis (Blue hyssop) 1) Direct sow May 2) Start inside March
Penstemon heterophyllus Electric Blue 1) Direct sow Jan 2) 40F stratification basement Jan
Platycodon grandiflorus 'Mother of Pearl' 1) Direct sow May 2) start inside March
Polemonium caeruleum 'Blue Pearl' 1) 70F strat 4 wks, then outside for cold strat 2) Start inside March
Polemonium pauc. (Yellow Jacobs Ladder) 1) Direct sow Jan 2) Start inside March
Thalictrum dasycarpum (Purple meadowrue) 1) Direct sow Jan 2) 35F stratification in fridge Jan
Thalictrum flavum glauc. (Yellow meadowrue) 1) Direct sow Jan 2) 35F stratification in fridge Jan

Yikes! Thank God I'm between jobs - would never have time for all this otherwise!

Thumbnail by sherriseden
Bloomington, IN(Zone 6a)

Here's a pic showing the webbing in the basket that lets the water through . . .

Thumbnail by sherriseden
Leesburg, FL(Zone 9b)

pretty neat looking system... do report back in the spring on how it worked out.

Hobart, IN

sherri - where'd you get those neat little tubes? I think you've got a winner there.
I did get some stuff started yesterday.
Stratifying in the fridge -
Aquilegia atrata
Aquilegia 'Yellow Star'
Aquilegia 'Sunlight White'
Consolida ambigua (larkspur)
Echinacea 'Summer Sky' - not sure about these since they were collected
Passiflora caerulea

WS -
Aquilegia atrata (trying this one both ways)
Asclepias (not sure what species - collected from the wild in TN)
Poppy 'White Cloud'
Poppy 'Mother of Pearl'
Primula 'Millers Crimson' (hopefully seeds are still viable)
Tradescantia - species unknown - collected from our local bike trail

Still have one more poppy to sow but waiting for a container.
Wanting to sow more but I'm going to TN at the end of the month and don't want to leave DH with too much to take care of.

Bloomington, IN(Zone 6a)

Hi, Cindy - the place is called American Science and Surplus. Link: If you're ever in the Chicago area, stop by one of the stores. Plan on being in there for at least an hour because they have so much interesting stuff! Lots of science kits plus military surplus (a 1970 army field guide to survival in 'Nam - seriously!), widgets, whatnots. Pretty cool! What does "WS" stand for? Your seeds sound great - looks like you're into the columbines like me!

Leesburg, FL(Zone 9b)

WS = Winter Sowing

Watertown, WI(Zone 5a)

Sherri, that looks like a pretty ingenious setup you've got there! Like you, I've also noticed that plugs do well--I think you're right about the long roots. That's one of the things I like about the Burpee seed starting system--each cell is relatively deep. By the time my seedlings have their first set of true leaves they've got root systems root systems about 3" long already and I can just pop them out of the cells and transplant them. From there, they really take off. :)

Bloomington, IN(Zone 6a)

@TCS - thanks! : )
@ Kayly - Right on about the roots! Hey, I just went back and saw one of your herbs is catnip for tea . . . I love tea, but never thought of catnip. Is it good? (Must be, if you're drinking it.) I may try that. We have some stray kitties, though, that we feed. I wonder if cats would go after it before I could harvest? Worth a try . . .

Watertown, WI(Zone 5a)

Sherri - Catnip is in the mint family and has a sort of minty-citrus taste. I like it in tea. It's actually (despite its affect on cats) a mild sedative, so it's good for a bedtime tea. I usually add honey and lemon to my tea, otherwise I find it has a little bit of bitterness to it.

Here's some information:

Hobart, IN

sherri - your store kinda sounds like Army/Navy Surplus in a way. Haven't been into one of those stores since I stopped wearing sailor bellbottoms years ago. :) Will have to mention your store to DD - she's home schooling and might find some interesting stuff there.
Never though about catnip for tea. Interesting. I'm a caffeine addict and find it difficult to switch over to herbal teas. I am taking a step beyond Lipton's with oolong and green tea. :)
Everybody ready for blizzards???

Bloomington, IN(Zone 6a)

Kayley - thanks, I think I'll try it! Cindy - really, only a small corner of the store is military surplus, the rest is science stuff and just a variety of widgets, wires, and whatnot. It is very cool!

I'm ready for the storm! Already rescheduled an interview with a recruiter that was tomorrow so I could take the folks out to stock up before the snow hits. Times like this, I'm actually glad I'm not working!

Hobart, IN

As long as we don't lose power, I'm fine with a blizzard (especially if DH stays home from work to run the snow blower instead of me shoveling!). I am also glad I'm not currently employed although I have to start looking again after my TN trip at the end of the month. The thought of driving the expressways in a blizzard again are scarey - I was much younger and braver during the last one.

Lewisville, MN(Zone 4a)

So far in the "storm", yes the same one headed for Illinois, we have 12" of snow & still snowing. That was at 5 PM. Don't want to look no more! The stuff is nice & fluffy. Wind tomorrow to hit 30MPH, so should really be a mess. We have most of the 60"+ that we've had this winter still on the ground.

Just done bidding on an online auction. Stupid computer couldn't keep up, so I missed a few things. It was all brand new doors, Oak, Maple, Cherry & Steel. We need some for the antique shop & a bunch for DD house. Not sure what I got yet. When they sell 497 lots in about 45 minutes it gets wild.

About our antique store;

Leesburg, FL(Zone 9b)

it has just really started here. we got a bit of a 'dusting' but it is just picking up. Bud is outside covered in snow. we are supposed to get 1-3" before it tapers around midnight... we shall see.
the BIG stuff should be hitting us Tues afternoon into Wed. again -- we shall see.
they are talking anywhere 12-26"

Good luck on the new venture Bernie!!

Hobart, IN

We got maybe an inch or two of snow last night so that wasn't bad. Funny how we were just "talking" about the '67 blizzard in another thread last week. Should have kept my mouth shut.
Ready to start my third poppy variety today for WS now that I have my container. It's going to be interesting to see what sprouts come spring.

Watertown, WI(Zone 5a)

I don't think I'll be using the gardening tools on my front porch for a while. :(

I'm guessing we got around 12" total here, more or less. The wind was really howling last night and watching the snow come down out by the streetlights was certainly an impressive sight. I think we were actually in a dry pocket, though, because other areas got it far worse than we did. We were on the northern edge of the blizzard warning area.

My husband's work (in a western Milwaukee suburb) sent an email last night saying that everyone needed to report to work today if they "felt comfortable" making the attempt, otherwise they had to use one of their vacation days. There was such an employee uprising that about a half hour later another email came through saying, "We've revised our decision and decided to trust the weather forecasters as to the magnitude of this storm." Idiots. *rolls her eyes*

Thumbnail by KaylyRed
Hobart, IN

Take a vacation day? DH was advised yesterday not to come into the office but to take whatever work he could do from home. That's not so bad because he'd do that anyway.
My reward for clearing snow this morning is to make up some paper pots and pot up some parsley seedlings. And WS my third poppy variety. I did have to remove the snow from the roof of my little GH this morning. I was afraid it might start sagging under the weight of 12". Thank goodness it's sheltered from the N and NW winds on the south side of the garage.

Watertown, WI(Zone 5a)

Cindy, you mentioned sailor bellbottoms. Check this out! It's my stepson, Brandon, last weekend at his graduation from Great Lakes. :)

Thumbnail by KaylyRed
Hobart, IN

Congrats to your nephew. Have been to Great Lakes but it is quite a drive from here. Oh - and Navy pea coats were very fashionable as well as the blue chambray work shirts. I still love work shirts to this day.

Hobart, IN

Forgive me - not proper forum or thread - don't forget the 15% Bluestone discount ends tonight at midnight. Just wanted to remind anyone wanting to place an order.

Watertown, WI(Zone 5a)

Oh, Cindy...I think this thread went astray looonnngg ago. Thanks for the reminder! If only I had my paycheck. I get paid monthly on the 1st and have to wait for the check to arrive in the mail (I telecommute.) Given the storms, it may not get here until Saturday, or maybe Monday. :(

Hobart, IN

Kayly - I'm sorry about the paycheck timing. For some reason, I kept thinking the deadline was the 6th or 7th until I looked at a reminder postcard yesterday.
OK - back on topic - I WS'd poppy 'Pizzicato' today. For the moment, I shoved it outside into a snow drift until I can get to the boxes with the rest of the WS containers.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I usually buy insert trays here, but most are only 2.25" deep. They have "hobby packs" of just 10 trays for $10-12 plus S&H.
- especially "traditional inserts, hobby packs", TLC Plug Flats" and "TLC Pro Trays (plugs)"

And I wonder about these "Market Packs" - they seem deeper, like 3.25" or 3.5"

When they aren't out of stock, I hope to try "1801 Deep" - 18 cells in 3 rows of 6
606Jumbo (6 6 paks = 36 cells, said to be 3.5 to 4" deep (maybe).

What do you use to improve drainage in seed-starting mixes? Mine always seem mostly-peat moss, dense and soggy. I've started adding lots of shredded pine bark and Perlite. I used to add coarse sand until some authority dumped on that as not sterile enough.

I recently read about 'chik grit' and now I'm looking around for it.


Saint Bonifacius, MN(Zone 4a)

Rick, I can't see how pine bark (unless itself is pasteurized) could be more "sterile" than sand. However it may tend to be naturally be devoid of harmful fungi.

If you don't want to use sand for your aforementioned reasoning, than chic grit might not be different in this respect. I am not sure what your grit would be made of in your part of the country. Here in the upper midwest, it is usually crushed granites. Other places may have crushed limestone or marble grit. None will ever come prepackaged as sterilized or pasteurized, as its intended use is not horticultural, and there is no need.

All that said, I do use sand and perlite not only to increase drainage, but also to control the expansion/shrinking quality of mostly peat based mixes. As many seed species I deal with require specific treatments that may take a year or more, the longevity of the mix is important.

Have you had fungal problems with your mixes amended with sand? And more so than without sand? As for myself, I have not.

(also named) Rick

Hobart, IN

I've been using the non-organic seed starting mix from Gardener's Supply for years. It seems to be just the right consistency without having to add other things. It is a sterile blend of peat and vermiculite. I did try their organic stuff but it was too dense. Pre-wetting is a must (I usually do this by mixing with water in a big plastic bowl) and being careful not to pack the mix too tightly into cells is also important.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Hi Cindy

I think I see it: Germinating Mix, 9 Qts. - Item #03-199 for $7, plus shipping?,03-199,default,cp.html

I'm guessing that you have a skilled or light hand in watering, if peat-plus-vermiculite works for you!

I will try packing mix less tightly, thanks for that tip. I didn't think I was packing it tightly at all, but maybe I am.


Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Hi Rick

>> I can't see how pine bark (unless itself is pasteurized) could be more "sterile" than sand

I agree, unless the guy I heard that from (Tom Clothier?) was thinking of dirty piles of builder's sand.

>> chic grit might not be different

That may be true, and yet if they intend it to be fed to livestock, I hope it is a little bit clean, at least compared to something destined for concrete. "Crushed granite" sounds right, although there is supposed to be another category, some kind of crushed shells. I need to find time and budget to go shopping!

>> None will ever come prepackaged as sterilized or pasteurized,

I'm sure you're right.

>> Have you had fungal problems with your mixes amended with sand? And more so than without sand? As for myself, I have not.

I can't say "more so". I think I am primarily drowning or suffocating roots with too-heavy mix and/or too much water. After that, I may have some damping off, but I think that "not enough light" and "too long in the trays" are bigger problems for me than fungus, mold, bacteria, etc.

And, lately, I accepted that i will have to buy heating mats and thermostats ... or keep that whole room a lot warmer!

I'm trying to overcome my most obvious problems (including making a better-draining mix) and learning each year what NOT to do. Sand, bark and even perlite are steps towards that. Probably, once I get to a point of "usually fairly successfull", I'll be abole to try out smaller, single changes and see what matters a lot and what doesn't (like sterile-vs-clean and bark-vs-sand).

For example, if something works well with "easy, fast" seeds, I'll try it again with variations on small, slow, difficult seeds.

Thanks for your thoughtfull reply.


Watertown, WI(Zone 5a)

Quote from CindyMzone5 :
I've been using the non-organic seed starting mix from Gardener's Supply for years. It seems to be just the right consistency without having to add other things. It is a sterile blend of peat and vermiculite.

Cindy, this sounds like the mix I use (although mine's from Stein Garden Center). It works well for me--light and fluffy. It sounds like you and I do a similar pre-wetting routine, too. I wet my mix in a plastic storage container using a squirt bottle to mist it and a big metal spoon to stir it up. The misting takes longer, but I don't want the mix too wet so I take the time. Plus, I like the earthy smell--it reminds me of spring. ;)

Using this process I haven't had any damping off problems. This year I did have a bit of mold growth on the top of the soil when I started my coleus seeds, but it hasn't affected germination or growth at all.

Hobart, IN

Heck, I just pour warm water into the middle of the mix and work it with my hands, breaking up clumps as I go along. I agree with you Kayly about the aroma - heavenly in Jan and Feb! And warm water works better for pre-wetting than cold water. Don't add so much water though that it's really soggy. This mix is a good match for the APS trays that I use since the water is wicked up into the mix as needed. I also use it in other containers (those plastic containers for lunch meats - poke several holes in the bottoms and water from the bottom and I just set the lids on top to keep moisture in until the seeds germinate). I learned to not pack the mix into the APS cells too firmly because they will get over-wet (could develop a bit of algae if covered for extended germination) but the mix does have to make good contact with the wicking mat. I haven't had any issues with damping off with this mix. Since it's been so reliable for me compared to other mixes I've tried, I don't even experiment with others anymore.
Corey - your link is correct. I've tried their organic seed starting mix but it's too heavy and stays too wet. I usually get a couple of bags every year. You could possibly extend it a little by adding some more vermiculite.

Watertown, WI(Zone 5a)

Those little sprouts in the photo at the beginning of this thread have become what you see on the top shelf here (along with a couple of hostas I picked up at the garden expo last weekend). Isn't nature marvelous?

I have some coleus that I potted up in bigger pots on the 2nd and 3rd shelf. Impatiens on the lower shelf in the flat. (I planted them too early. I'M the impatienT one. :P) There are petunias and pansies just planted on the 3rd shelf.

I love greenery in the winter!

Thumbnail by KaylyRed
Hobart, IN

Loving the green stuff, Kayly. What Hostas did you pick up at the Expo?
I did Coleus cuttings and have about 30 of them now potted up. Just a few more and then moving onto sowing some seeds indoors towards the end of the week. Yippee!

Watertown, WI(Zone 5a)

The hostas are 'Chain Lightning' (in the front) and 'London Fog' (the nearly white one in back that you can barely see). It's fun having hostas indoors. I'm starting a tradition of picking up one or two at the Expo. Last year it was 'Praying Hands.' :)

30 coleus! I should've rooted cuttings from mine last year and kept them indoors. The coleus I started from seed are, if you're curious, are 'Kong Red,' 'Versa Green' and 'Palisandra.' All of them are doing well, although the 'Palisandra' didn't germinate quite as well as the others (which were 100%!) I just counted and I have 24 little baby coleuses.

Hobart, IN

I found a couple of Coleus that I really liked so I keep them going from year to year (saving minimum of $3.50 ea) until I find another one that catches my fancy. I started 'Palisandra' from seed in the past (one of the very few) and I remember that germination wasn't spectacular. Congrats on the babies! I did order a few new Hostas as well - 'Fireworks', 'Rainforest Sunrise' and 'Frosted Mouse Ears'. I was tempted by some of the whiter ones as well but will have some new white Caladiums to play with this year so I might wait until a spontaneous covetous urge hits me.

Watertown, WI(Zone 5a)

'London Fog' is VERY white, actually. At least the little one I have is, and I'm told it emerges white then gets light green and heavily streaky/misted. But I keep seeing photos of 'Loyalist' everywhere I look lately and it's popping out at me in all it's mostly-white glory, too. So many hostas, so little space/money/time. :P

Enjoy 'Rainforest Sunrise!' It's one of my favorites. And 'Fireworks' is on my wish list. :)

Hobart, IN

ooooh - 'London Fog' does sound covetous now.

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