When living in a climate with freezing temperatures during the winter season, starting seeds requires different techniques. Like plants, some seeds are very easy and some require more patience, many having particular growing needs.
While it may seem antiquated and far too simple, the back of the seed packet remains one of the best reliable sources of accurate planting information for whatever seed one is growing. These how-to-tips are a general overview for gardeners living in regions like the cold north.
Indoor Seed Starting
Plants best started indoors from seed are those that take an extended period of time to germinate, do not like cool soil temperatures, or require the majority of the summer months to mature. For example, vegetable seeds such as tomato, or cucumber or annual flowers like cosmos or zinnia.
Learn the first frost-free date in the garden’s local region, such as in Milwaukee, Wisconsin it is May 20 or Columbus, Ohio May 9. It can vary slightly depending on location so check with your local university extension office for exact information. Use this date to count back the number of days or weeks it will take the seeds to germinate before you are able to transition them outside.
Choose an indoor light location with an east or west facing window or under grow lights to place the pots after planting. Avoid locations with very strong sun or where windows leak cold winter drafts.
Plant seeds in an extremely light planting medium such as perlite or peat moss. Some gardeners like peat pots or making one’s own pots with biodegradable newspaper. Once the seedlings have grown more than 2” tall and are hardened off, plant directly into the garden.
Hardening off before planting outside means allowing transplants to adjust to the outdoor temperatures. Gardeners do this by setting pots outside on days it is warm and brought in before night or on days it is too cold. Many gardeners use a cold frame system for this process.
Planting Seeds Outside
The best plants to start outside are cool season crops such as peas, radishes or types of lettuce. These can be sown directly into the soil as soon as it can be worked. But some, while able to be sown directly outside, still needs warmed soil, such as carrots or the flowering herb calendula.
Prepare soil by mixing in organic matter such as compost or peat moss and rake soil level. Remove weed seeds and dead plant debris left from the previous year’s garden.
Sow seeds in planting rows at the depth and spacing stated on the seed package. Some seeds grow best in rows a width apart, others are best scattered and covered with a light layer of soil. Thin out to the correct spacing as seedlings appear.
Add a layer of organic mulch around each seedling after they mature. Many gardeners will use shredded pine, loose straw or lawn clippings. This will help retain moisture especially during drought conditions.
Variety of Seed Types
Seed appearance varies widely. Some seeds are difficult to germinate or require extra treatments because of the hard shells. One easy to grow annual plant, morning glory, requires soaking overnight.
Starting plants from seed offer many benefits no matter where one lives. Many more new plant varieties and heirloom types are available only by seed. For children, planting seeds offers real-life ways to learn science, math and reading while having fun
A native of Wisconsin, Chris now makes her home in zone 5 of central Ohio. She is a member of Garden Writers Association and Perennial Plant Association. More of Chris' garden musings may be seen at StayGardening.com.