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Brand new to seeding but not sure?

Richmond, TX

I am brand new to gardening and want to know if it is financially worth the work put in to learn to seed rather than pay $6-$7 per plant or flower to fill some beds. I need lots of help please so any and all replies will be greatly appreciated. I live 25 miles sw of Houston, Texas so the heat is the worse come late July, August, and early September. I live in Zone 8B and wish to learn to start some flowers and plants from seed (perennials only please). My purpose is to (1) Enjoy what I do in the hobby and (2) Have fresh cut flowers on the table every few weeks or so. I am saving egg cartons, small containers, etc, right now to place seeds in. Other than that I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING!!! Do I place them by a window after I plant the seeds (even though all my windows don't have direct sunlight shining straight thru? Do I buy a special light to place over them? Is there a kit to use (I saw a couple at Home Depot for about $7 and $20 respectively but wasn't sure about buying them). Then what seeds should I choose for my area? What about wildflowers? How long do they need to be in the dirt if I start them next weekend (Feb 26th)? How will I know when they are ready and will they be too small for the beds? And most importantly, will this method really save me major $$$$ (at least 50%) over buying flowers/plants at say an average price of $6-$7 each?


Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

Hi: Definately worth starting plants from seeds. I only buy plants that I can't obtain seeds for. It is much cheaper when you need lots of plants.

Lights, etc. is a one time purchase since you can reuse it. Likewise with seedling flats. And if stored in the fridge protected in a baggie, seeds can last for more than a year.

I live in Wyoming so my climate is much colder. However, plants that I know will grow in your climate are Sedums and Sempervivums (hen and chicks) Neither can seeds be found for but they are usually offered in Walmart, Home Depot, etc. The reason I list them is that you can start new plants easily from cuttings. Just stick in the ground to root. Sedum comes as ground cover, or upright growing.

If you live near Walmart you can purchase seed sowing items now.

A perennial to easily grow from seed is Gaillardia (blanket flower). It will grow in your zone and is a great cut flower. Blooms all summer. Walmart sell the seeds.

Google some seed companiers. Here are two that I have used. Lots of information about the plants.

Here is a data base link for starting seeds and purchasing cheap. Also gives culture.

How long seeds need to be in "dirt" depends on the variety you are sowing. Some take a week, others can take 30 days.

The photo is of Gaillardia. One package of mixed seeds will give you the blend shown. Easy to grow and drought tolerant.

Thumbnail by blomma
Richmond, TX

Blomma - Thanks very much for all the info and links above!


Watertown, WI(Zone 5a)

Hi, Thlorian!

There are lots of seed sowing experts on this forum who can give you some great advice. I'm not an expert, but like you I was new to starting my own seeds. I gave it a try about 4 years ago using a sunny (southeast) window and was very disappointed by the results--I got spindly seedlings that died when I tried to harden them off and plant them out. I've learned a LOT since then, and I can tell you two things right off: 1) starting your own seeds is definitely cheaper if you're going to be planting a large garden or a lot of annuals (and sometimes even for smaller perennial gardens), and 2) it's a lot of fun!

There are dozens of schools of thought when it comes to starting seeds indoors, but I think there's one that all seed sowers agree on--you need lights; a sunny window won't cut it. The good news is that lights are cheap. You don't have to buy expensive grow lights (although some people swear by them)--a cheap $10 shop light from Walmart will do just fine. And then you'll need the bulbs--about $8 for the pair. I buy the cooler bulbs marked as offering natural or "outdoor" light. (Again, there are lots of different schools of thought on "cool" and "warm" bulbs--which refers to the light temperature not the bulb temperature--but don't get too caught up in worrying about this just yet. You can fine tune if you decide that seed starting is something you want to keep doing.)

Another thing I think most seed starters will agree on is that you need to use sterile seed starting mix when you germinate seeds indoors. You'll find it at any garden center, and maybe even Walmart. Sterile mix usually contains peat moss and agricultural vermiculite. I recommend staying away from the peat pellets (little pellets to which you add water so they swell to form little self-contained pots in netting). In my experience, they tend to get too waterlogged. Seedlings don't like "wet feet," and overly damp conditions lead to fungus ("damping off.")

You can start seeds in plastic flats or trays with individual cells. I personally think deeper cells are better for strong root formation. Again, your mileage may vary.

Pre-moisten your seed starting mix before planting. I put my seed starting mix in a large Tupperware-like tub and pour hot water over it a bit at a time, then stir it with a large metal spoon. (You could use a trowel or other garden utensil--just make sure it's clean and, ideally, sanitized in some bleach water.) You don't want to make mud; you're aiming for nice, fluffy, moist soil.

Fill your flats or cells or whatever you're planting in with starting mix. Don't pack it in--leave it nice and airy. Then sow your seeds as directed on the seed packets. It helps, I find, to create a tag that shows what seeds you've sown, what day you planted them, and how many days they normally take to germinate (that information is on the seed packet, or you can look it up right here at Dave's Garden in PlantFiles.) When they're all planted, put your flats under the lights. You want the lights close! Put them only as far away as they need to be for light to hit all corners of the flat--usually an inch or two.

Keep your seeds moist. It's best to cover them either with a plastic cover that often comes with flats, or with clear plastic. Either water them from below if the flat has drainage holes and you can set them in a tray of water that will wick up, or mist with a squirt bottle on the mist setting. Seedlings like moist conditions but NOT wet conditions. Keep that in mind and you'll be fine.

As the seedlings sprout, remove the cover or plastic wrap. Keep misting or watering from below or you risk washing the tender little babies out. And again, keep those lights close! If the light is too far away the seedlings will "reach" for it and grow tall and spindly.

When your seedlings have 2-4 sets of leaves, they're ready to be transplanted to larger containers or even set outdoors. Regardless of climate, seedlings need to be "hardened off," which means that you expose them to the outdoor elements a little at a time. Start by setting them outdoors in a sheltered location out of direct sunlight and wind, then gradually give them exposure to the great outdoors. Keep them out of temperature extremes. After about a week of this, they're ready to be planted.

I've given you a lot of information here...and it's because I really do love starting seeds indoors that I share it. :) Don't be scared off by what might seem like a complicated procedure--it's really not. In fact, it's fun to have green things growing indoors when things are still brown and bleak (or, if you live where I live, white and frigid!) outdoors.

Calgary, Canada

We all learned by doing it !
All of us have have had failures as well as success.
You will learn as you grow them.
There is lots of help available here and elsewhere on the net.

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

Here is a forum about a new way to start seeds that I use. Cheaper and less messy.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

It is hugely cheaper to start from seed. Maybe start practicing on easy annuals like zinnias, marigolds, alyssum. Work up to violas and poppies. Many of them will re-seed, so they are almost like perennials.

If you really don't like annuals, ask around about what perennials are easy. Probably daisies and Rudbeckias, maybe Salvia.

I think the hardest to start from seeds are slow-growing perennials that need stratification. You might get frustrated if the first seed you try to start is a fussy Penstemon!

Holly Springs, NC(Zone 7b)

I recommend that you skip the egg carton plan. They are too small and too shallow so you'll have to transplant your seedlings when they are really fragile. Almost any kind of container can be repurposed for seed sowing as long as you put holes in the bottoms; yogurt cups, dairy tubs, milk jugs and soda bottles (just cut them down to height, and keep the part you cut if they are clear!) I second the suggestions for investing in lighting. Doesn't have to be anything specialized to growing, just shop lights.

Consider doing some annuals in addition to perennials, as the perennials generally take a season or two before they get large enough to be showy. You can grow a LOT of annuals for less than $10 and have those blast of color and coverage in the meanwhile. Most seed companies have features on their websites that will let you filter by zip code or planting zone so that you are growing plants that are appropriate for your climate.

Folks here on DG are always willing to help, so ask away!

Eastlake, OH(Zone 5a)

It is definitely woth starting your plants from seeds. Now is the time to go to the libray and read about starting seeds indoors under grow lights. The key is is, to find out what you would like, what will gow in your area. Is it sunny, shady, partial

sun, damp? This will help you decide on what to grow. Ther are many books out there. The main thing to do, is if you decide to start your seeds, invest in a good grow light. It is worth the investment. Check the libray for a book called Gardening Indoors Under lights, by Frederick H. and Jacqueline L. Kranz. Bought it over 50 years ago, but the library might have a copy. Best of luck!

"Stay Happy and Keep Gardening!"

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

Another place to learn about your climate and what will grow there is your Extension Service. You should be able to find them in your phone book. If close by, visit them. Or else call them. They are always glad to help.
Gardening Indoors Under lights is a great book. I had it.

Good luck. I hope you will have a yard full of beauties this summer.

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

Here is a forum that deals with seeds.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Here is a link to the USDA / National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)
"County Cooperative Extension System Office Finder".

It starts at your state, and then goes down to the County level. Some of the associated links may also be interesting, like local universities with ag or gardening services.

Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

Hi Thlorian,
They answer to your major question is that learning to sow seeds will save you over fifty percent. Not just from the first planting of seeds, the major benefit comes after the plant is grown. Then, you often don't need to buy seeds because the plant will give you seeds, and some times even reseed itself. An even greater benefit is that after the plants get a little older often you don't even have to plant seeds to get more plants, they have little plants grow beside them, or you can learn to take cuttings from them and they will grow plants.
I planted seeds last year, today I gave my neighbor a couple of dozen Shasta Daisies, two different types. Tomorrow I am going to give her some Purple Coneflowers, also plants grown from seed last year. I think there are six nice plants I set aside for her.
You also said your main purpose was to enjoy what you are doing as a hobby. There is very little more enjoyable in gardening that growing your own plants from seed! During the cold winter months with nothing to do, the excitement of checking on your little seedlings can really brighten up a dreary day.
You said Perennials only, but don't limit yourself to perennials. You will find plenty of annuals that you can grow from seed. I grew Coleus from seed this last year, they reseeded themselves and came back again. Plus, I collected tons more seed from them so I can plant them where I want. Again, the big advantage here is that a cutting from a Coleus just stuck in the ground will become a new plant in a matter of days, the same for Impatiens, etc. So you don't have to spend a lot for annuals one you learn to grow a few, just remember that seeds are not the only cheap way to get plants because stem cuttings and root cuttings can be even cheaper.
I want go into how to grown plants from seeds, just to say unless you are blessed with more light in your house than I am you will have to have some type of artificial lighting system. If you would like to send me a D-mail I can send you some pictures of my cheap lighting set up, and my cheap method of using the freezer top for a heating pad.
Learn to grow plants from seed: you will love it. It is almost like watching a miracle taking place.

Thumbnail by Seedfork
Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

To collect seeds from your own plants is fine as long as they are not a hybrid. Hybrids will not come true from seeds, ex. tomatoes, iris, daylily. Daturas, petunias, marigolds, to mention a few. The reason is due to the many generations of genes that were bred into the parent plants to produce a different plant (hybrid) within the same cultivar.

Common coneflower and shasta daisy are not hybrids so should come true from seed.

Just my 2 cents worth.

Like your seed holder. I too use medicine bottles to store seeds in my fridge.

Alexandria, VA

I agree that it will save you lots of money in the long run, but I also agree that perennials may not be the best way to start out as many won't bloom for a few years. If I was you I would start some annuals along with the perennials, that way you'll have color this year while the perennials are growing.

Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

Speaking of seeds from hybrids, I collected some red coneflower seeds and planted them. I also did the same with the regular purple and also the white. I don't think the red will come true from seed, but it has been by far the best germinating of the group. I think every seed of the red coneflower had germinated, only a few of the purple and only two so far of the white.
To me it is really exciting to see just what these seeds will produce.

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