Starting plants from seed
Every gardener has his or her own preferred method of seed-starting. A lot
depends on your favorite things to grow from seed: if you like lettuce, you'll
mostly direct-sow in the garden; if tomatoes are your thing, chances are you
start indoors in potting soil with bottom heat; and if you prefer finnicky
alpines, you may engage in scatter-sowing across a grit-covered pot.
As much seed-starting as I do, I've tried most methods by now. I've hit
on a favorite one that works for most varieties, but at the same time I've
come to realize that different types of plants and seeds require different
approaches. On this page, I'll try to sort through my rationale for deciding
what method to use with which varieties. First, a summary of the methods I
- the baggy method, with all its variations
- sowing to a cellpack - with and without bottom heat
- sowing to a pot - inside, outside, or combinations thereof
- direct-sowing in the garden
When I first started on my germination adventures, I went about it in a
fairly traditional way: cellpacks filled with a seed-starting soil mix, a few seeds
to each cell, each cellpack under the growlights. And that worked out okay.
Sure, some varieties never germinated, so that their cellpacks sat uselessly
under the lights, while others germinated like gangbusters, with multiple
seedlings per cell. I usually didn't have the heart to snip extras, leading to
delicate transplant attempts, but I had plenty of room and plenty of time - after
all, I was starting just a few dozen varieties.
Then I started to get more and more hooked, and obtained hundreds of varieties
from catalog orders, trades, and society exchanges. Now both space and time
became more precious, and I adjusted my methods accordingly. Mostly, I gravitated
toward my own version of the baggy method (also known as the filter paper method,
or the Deno method). I describe the ins and outs of this method on
its own page, but in short, it involves germinating seeds outside of soil,
and transplanting them to containers to grow on after they germinate. Here are
some of the advantages I see to this approach:
- Seed varieties don't consume any cellpacks, soil, or space under the lights
until they actually germinate. If they never germinate, they just get thrown out
- It's much easier to subject the seeds to the cold and warm stratification
treatments they need for germinating. Early on, I'd put entire cellpacks in
plastic bags and set them in the fridge for their cold treatment. Three kids
later, the fridge has no room for such frills, but all my baggies fit in a single
- If you like to keep records and statistics of germination rates and yields,
the baggy method can't be beat. You can see germination occur at its first stage,
when a single small root emerges from the seed, and can keep records of how
many seeds germinate, and how long it takes, in as much detail as you like. That's
where I get the detailed information I present on my plant portrait pages.
- Some varieties just germinate better given the baggy conditions. I don't
claim to know why, but this has been my experience for several species.
- Finally, some esoteric germination enhancement methods, such as treatment
with Gibberellic acid, are ideally suited to the baggy method, which provides about
as controlled of an environment as is possible.
Of course, there are disadvantages as well:
- It's more work, in many cases. After the seeds germinate, you have to
carefully transplant them to cellpacks or pots. If you'd have sown directly to
soil, you could have saved yourself a step.
- You have to stay on the ball - most varieties have a limited length of time
after germination before they start really resenting growing in a baggy. Checking
the baggies for germination every three or four days is a must.
- Even so, some varieties just don't like the experience, period. For example,
I've found that various penstemon species are much more prone to damping off
or otherwise failing if they germinated in a baggy, instead of directly in
- Those really tiny seeds! Transplanting them after they germinate requires
keen eyesight and a surgeon's steady hand, and many are easily damaged in the
- Those really large seeds! They tend to make poor contact with the filter
medium in the baggy, leading to delayed germination or root stress after
germination. Anything bigger than a pea tends to be problematic. Even so,
a baggy may still work - just use milled peat moss or potting soil instead of
- Giving more than one warm-cold cycle gets to be tedious in baggies. And
providing the fluctuating temperatures that some seeds need to
germinate (examples: Bells of Ireland, cleome) is nigh impossible in the
baggy environment. In both situations, Mother Nature does it better
So from a good number of years' experience, I've come up with a few heuristics
for germination method selection:
- Seeds for species that are new to me, especially perennials with
uncertain germination requirements, I almost always start in baggies.
That way, I have complete control, and can keep the most accurate records,
which will help me decide how to proceed in future years.
- An exception to that is when I know (from germination databases, internet
search, or trading partner advice) that the seed needs an extended cold stage,
perhaps more than one cold stage, or fluctuating temperatures. In those cases,
I tend to sow directly to a 3½ inch pot, which I bottom-water thoroughly,
and cover with grit to help keep moisture in and algae/moss out. If my sources
suggest that an initial warm stage is helpful, I keep the pot inside for the
suggested amount of time, otherwise, out it goes, for a winter's worth of
natural conditioning. Come spring, I check the pots regularly, make note of any
germination, and plant seedlings out when they're large enough to handle. Some
pots stay in my outside germination area for several years before I give up on
- Tiny seeds that are painfully difficult to handle, I usually sow directly
to the top of a 3½ inch pot with potting soil, water in thoroughly, and
set under my growlights for germination. Seeds that dislike baggy germination
or that seem to do better direct-sown (penstemon, hosta) also get sown directly
to pots. Since these tend to have unpredictable germination success rates, I
prefer pots over cellpacks. If after a while a pot gets too crowded, I'll
transplant to cellpacks or individual small pots.
- For annuals and vegetables that germinate easily and in great numbers, I
often bypass the baggy hassle and resort to the ol' stick 'm in six-pack method.
I double up on the seed, use exactly as many cells as the number of plants I
want, and ruthlessly lop extras. It's quicker, and many of the baggy method's
advantages don't really apply.
- Finally, there's sowing in situ outside. I use this for plants whose
seedlings really dislike any kind of handling (poppies, mainly), and some other
perennial and biennial plants known for self-sowing (e.g., foxgloves). There's
a lot more room outside, so you can get a larger crop of plants; they'll stay
small their first year (no head-start on the season), but if they're not going
to flower anyway (most perennials and biennials won't), then it doesn't really
Luckily, deciding what to feed my seedlings is infinitely easier than
figuring out what to feed the kids! The seedlings are not nearly as picky.
As a matter of fact, I don't really feed them anything as long as they are
in small cellpacks, and they do just fine. When they get a little bigger,
and get transplanted to their own pots or deep six-packs, I water them in
with some dilute fertilizer, and from then on they get a regular diet of
weak nutrient soup. Until last year, I used Neptune's Harvest and was happy with it - but
no matter how much they try to tell you this stuff has no smell, they are
lying! It stinks! So when my wife needed to store food items in the same
half of the basement, the situation became untenable, and I switched to
small doses of all-purpose chemical fertilizer. If you do use fish
fertilizer (it's supposed to have nutrients and stimulants that synthetic
fertilizers can't provide) just remember to water in such a way that any
liquid is rapidly absorbed into the potting soil (either by bottom-watering
or top-watering), and the smell doesn't linger. Do not, however, make up a
batch of the diluted stuff and let it sit around: the stench has a way of
permeating things. I didn't really mind it - it just went along with one of
my favorite activities. Whichever fertilizer you use, be sure to dilute it
down to 1/4 or 1/2 the recommended strength.
Most people underestimate how long seed stays viable. Certainly, the best-by date
varies with the plant species, and some won't even last a few months in dry
storage. But most keep for much, much longer (for example,
big bluestem grass). Some, like peppers and tomatoes,
slowly lose viability, so that you need to plant more for a good crop. Others
seem to just never give up. In the seed-starting details (see below), I try to
indicate the age and origin of the seed, so that you can judge whether they
deteriorate with time.
Most seeds remain viable longest when stored cold. I have more seeds
than would fit in the family fridge, so I keep them in a box in our basement, where the temperature
fluctuates from about 60°F in winter to about 68°F in summer. This
seems to be fine for most seeds. I make an exception for a few notoriously
short-viable seeds, which I stick in a corner of the fridge (in the same
tupperware container as my cold-stratifying baggies).
When you buy seed from commercial sources, you can pretty much be sure that the
little things inside are indeed seed (you can't always be sure they are viable,
especially if they've been sitting around in a department store for months). But
when you trade for seed, you can't always be sure. I've gotten many packets full
of fluffy chaff through the years.
Especially prone to seedlessness are trades of hosta, gerbera, clematis,
pulsatilla and ligularia. For all of these, the seeds should be fat and solid
- they are easy to distinguish from chaff, which is just fluffy stuff, sometimes
with flat empty husks. If you can push down on seed without feeling resistance,
it's probably not viable. Smaller seed is harder to judge - sowing thickly is
sometimes the only way to make sure that you're sowing some seed along with the
All of these are just my personal observations. Please
let me know if your experience is different.
You may also be interested in my list
of perennials that bloom in their first year from seed.
Visitors to this page have left the following comments
|Ray||Jul 15, 2005||Hi Rob
What a very interesting website.Only just discovered it but shall return many times I'm sure. Don't know how you find the time though with all that garden to do and seed sowing and experimentin an all. Well done mate from a UK addicted gardener.|
|Jeanie Wright.||Jul 30, 2005||Hi Rob, thanks for your information. I am interested in growing Japanese Windflower from seed and have found little information or incouragement so far. I guess I will have to email you.|
|Chris||Oct 21, 2005||I recieved some seeds, I think, from a friend. They are from a butterfly bush. Can you tell me what they look like? pics would be helpful. Thank You.|
|Dawn H.||Oct 31, 2005||I enjoyed your site! Preparing my final presentation for my Master Gardener class and looking for sources (Since I have been starting seeds about as long as you, mainly looking for 'sources' for the bibliography of stuff I already know-this isnt rocket science) I have never heard of the 'baggy' method but I am going to try it this year!|
|Ashley Whitmer||Nov 03, 2005||Hi Rob I wanted you to know your web site helped me with my science project
Ps I love your flower pictures.|
|Ronda||Nov 04, 2005||Wonderful site- great info
ps love Max's garden-cute|
|Bev||Dec 05, 2005||Greetings from Australia. Great site, interesting info and lovely photos. I have to remember to switch seasons though being 'down under'. Wish there were more Australian gardeners / horticulturalists willing to share their knowledge. Congratulations and keep up the good work.|
|Susan J.||Dec 05, 2005||Hey, Rob - great site and great information. I added a few comments on butterfly/moth gardening. It seems more interest has been buoyed in the past couple of years. As to the price of T&M seeds, you HAVE to try valueseeds.com (a T&M sub) where they sell for 49-99 cents!|
|Keith||Dec 15, 2005||Hi Rob, interesting site and loved the comments on your guestbook. I have to agree with Susan about www.valueseeds.com Its an awesome website with real value prices and shipping only 99c. The prices are great for beginners or if you just want to experiment with something different.|
|peggy||Jan 15, 2006||This is the most facinating page I've read. I am in the process of building a greenhouse and welcome any knowledge. I would love to read more about bottom watering.
|alan sherry||Feb 14, 2006||would you tell me the best way to start hosta seed|
I start them in pots at room temperature. Only the ones with fat parts at the end of the flimsy black bits are real seeds.
|judie||Feb 25, 2006|| I have not be able to get the clematis to do anything for me. I guess i'm missing the secret. but I have hundreds of seeds, none of which Have done a thing in the past attempts. I just keep collecting them. maybe some one else out there has been having a hard time and finally got it.....any help would be appreciated....judie|
|Jocelyn Mallory||Mar 14, 2006||When you germinate at 70' are you doing so under a controlled heat source such as a heat mat or lights, or are you just leaving the baggie in the house pretty much at room temperature?
your website is exceedingly helpful.|
When I say 70F, it means the temperature of my basement (actually, for seeds started in December/January, I report 65F, which is closer to the truth in those months). 75F means on top of a grow-lamp (may actually be closer to 80F).
|Víctor Azofeifa||Jul 15, 2006|| Hi nice web site, I`m a home gardener here in Costa Rica, I love the Hollyhocks, they are very common in my town. I want to be a real seed saver, is just my hobby. Very interesting to know how many time i can keep my seeds.|
|Sandy McCullough||Aug 08, 2006||Can Cannas be started from seed?|
Yes, they can. I haven't done so personally, though - it's so much easier to divide them.
|D. P. Singh||Sep 06, 2006||I just got my first house, now planning to grow wonderful flowers & plants to bring prosperity in our life.|
|Jim D.||Nov 01, 2006||I'm a newby at gardening, I have a HUGE yard, and I will MOST definitely take advantage of your wonderful sight!|
|Ben||Nov 04, 2006||I would appreciate it very much if someone could tell me where I can buy seed of:
variegatum or yellow archangel
aegopodium podagraria or goutweed
aronia melanocarpa or chokeberry
waldsteinia fragarioides or barrenstrawberry
All of these plants are perennials and very good for shady places.
Many many thanks,
|Lavinia||Feb 11, 2007||I'm really into the challenge of starting exotic and unusual plants from seeds. If you happen to have any information on how to start durian from seed, i'd love to know. Thank you and I'll check back soon on your site for updates. I really enjoy your insights on this matter. |
I like to grow all kinds of plants, but my experience with tropical fruits and vegetables is very limited - I've not yet tried durian. Good luck!
|Sara||Mar 12, 2007||I am 2 years into the seed-starting addiction and have been fairly successful. I am using growlights over peat pots. I understand that some seeds need to germinate in the dark and some in the light -- where can I find out the requirements for each type of seed?|
Tom Clothier's database is a good place to start. I try to provide the information as well, for species I've grown from seed - try the links above.
|Annie||Mar 22, 2007||This is great! I have started a bunch of different veggie seeds on paper towels and this site is providing some great info on what I've done wrong ;) so I'll be able to start over again, like, before next year (nice change of pace!) I appreciate your sharing all this info with us neophytes!|
|lisa||May 15, 2007||great facts and stuff but you could include just that little more on what seeds germate quickest|
|adk||May 24, 2007||i think that was great and but you couldve put showed the picture of how it started germinating.|
|liz||Jul 25, 2007||When I start seed indoors I use the peat pots; they germinate fine but they get tall and spindly with only the "seed leaves" on top and flop over. What am I doing wrong? |
Probably not enough light - they need bright light in a sunny window, or a fluorescent light source no more than a few inches away from the plants.
|Renate Mellinger||Jul 27, 2007||To Carole Johnson in Albany, Oregon...I may have what you are looking for. I have seeds of ellow/red gaillardia, but they are not trumpets. They are large daisy-like flowers. Is that what you want?
Renate Mellinger, Salem, Oregon|
|carmen||Oct 28, 2007||su página me gusta mucho. me gustaría comprar alguna de sus plantas y semillas pero vivo en un sitio muy pequeño en españa y creo que no llegarían nunca aquí.
|Rob CharlierAnglim||Nov 15, 2007||Why are some annuals easily started from seed, but some should be directly seeded outdoors rather than started indoors? I am confused... any information about this topic would be greatly appreciated. Love your web layout. I also teach web page construction during the school year.|
It all depends on what conditions are necessary for germination to occur, and how well the plants respond to transplanting. Those that require fluctuating temperatures, or that resent transplanting, are better sown directly where they are to grow. Examples are cleome, poppies, bells of ireland, and larkspur.
|gaston1||Nov 19, 2007||just looking around seaching for info on horticulture and plants wen i came acrose your site , i'm a novice in this field hoping to get a cours at alguonquin one day, thanks for the info it is allways good to get new tricks for the garden , being disable limite my search each day and i discovered plants again by working at the local canadien tire in the garden center an here i go again start and cant put down my intreset for knowlege of plantes and more .|
|Pam in Ohio||Jan 05, 2008||I had the greatest looking impatiens last year! They were fairly large plants, very healthy looking with huge leaves. The blooms, however, were few. My impatiens didn't have the same look that those purchased from the local nurseries had. Their plants were full of blooms, unlike mine. I'm starting my seeds in peat pots under grow lights. I pinched back for fuller plants and fertilized with diluted 10-15-10 liquid fertlizer. What should I do differently this year as I start my impatiens seeds to get plants with more blooms?|
|Daniel||Jan 15, 2008||Fantastic garden where do you find the time? It looks like a minature botanic garden ,hope you have a very successful gardening year, all the best.
Chelsea physic garden London|
|Teri in Mount Bethel, PA||Jan 23, 2008||Have you had any experience with winter sowing?? I have put out some seeds in milk containers and other types of containers. I am told that self sowing plants (and others) all just naturally put seed in the ground which overwinters and turns out fine (mother nature knows what to do with them) so that deliberately following this routine should work. Do you agree.
I do use wintersowing methods for some seeds. Like all methods, it has advantages and disadvantages. The main advantages are the small level of effort during sowing and germination, and (for some seeds) just the right conditions of fluctuating temperatures or cool spring temperatures that they need to germinate. On the negative side, germination usually occurs in April and May (around here), right around the busiest time of the gardening season - and they don't reach a useful size until late May or June, when hot weather is already on the lurch, making it harder to keep tiny seedlings alive. On balance, I use the method only for hard-to-germinate seeds that really benefit from the natural temperature cycles.
|terry||Feb 17, 2008||I've used the baggy method for a long time. Can't remember why except I hated waiting for something to come up soil method and I always lost where I planted. But I'm glad I did. My daughter went in to have her baby, simple enough right, wrong. There were complications and we were at the hospital longer than expected and I had started my baggies of seeds already. I use a little different method in that I place a paper plate on a holder in a gallon baggy with paper towel on it and wet that. In this manner I can stack two or three to a baggy. ( I am short on space) Anyway I placed all the starts in a couple brown paper bags and took they with me. That year I had a traveling garden. My grandchild was fine and the garden went on to be great also. It was a good year.|
|Mark in New Orleans||Feb 18, 2008||I am doing OK in bag germination , but I am having trouble afterI put them in pots, is there a good proiduct for damping off? |
Damping off is best controlled by cultural measures: air circulation and only watering, from the bottom, when the soil is dry. Of course you'll never get it perfect (in any tray of seedlings, you'll find that some packs/pots dry out faster than others), but I find my losses to damp-off are quite modest, mostly in species notoriously prone to the fungal disease. Having said that, some seed-starters swear by other (often organic) solutions, such as herbal teas, to control damp-off. If you ask at an online forum, you'll get lots of advice!
|Carol||Feb 26, 2008||What an amazing site; I thought I was in heaven! I have a large garden area also filled with perennials, annuals, flowering shrubs and trees. But, I am constantly looking for more or trying some more plants from seed. I know your site will be of geat help to me. Thanks for being here!
|Hugh Tornabene, Maryland||Apr 23, 2008||Starting with Web-store bought Jack in the Pulpit seeds I am, with mistakes, figuring out how to produce plants.
Germinated by placing in the dark between wet layered paper towels, room temperature, is easy and gave about 70% germination. Roots start appearing after maybe 3 weeks.
Then I drowned my first batch, overwatered soggy seed starter mix. So sad.
Second batch, after sprouting, and in sprouted groups, laid on top of wetted Jiffy peat pellets, tucked in a bit, with the root showing but pointed down. Indoors.
Miracle. Root splits and a green shoot appears and turns into a leaf. White root races downwards maybe 2 inches in 10 days. Transferred, complete, to pots with damp (not wet) seed starter in. Looking healthy. Thats all so far.|
|Lynne||Apr 23, 2008||I started my seed search in January after becoming inspired by your easy instructions for the "baggy method". I now have over 900 perennials and annual flowers that I will be planting this Spring. I tried over 80 different types/varieties of seeds. The only one that I didn't have luck with was some sea oats seed. This is such an interesting and space saving way of starting seeds. Thank you for sharing. Your site is fabulous. |
|Jehoshaphat-Elliot||Oct 16, 2008||My research on seed dormancy brought me here.Its a good job you've done but I'll be glad if you enlighten me more on the examples of seeds that undergo scarification before they germinate.But then I believe this is just the beginning,keep the good work up.|
Any seeds with hard, impervious seed coats benefit from having the coat broken up - by mechanical or chemical means. Many fabaceae (bean relatives) and malvaceae (mallow relatives) fall in this category. Best methods of scarification vary - mechanical treatments include shaking with sand, to light sandpapering, to nicking hard with a knife; chemical treatments include immersion in boiling-hot water or sulfuric acid.
|Janak Patel- India.||Dec 26, 2008||Very amazing and useful site..many many thanks for information hard to get any where else.|
|Christine Mooney||Jan 21, 2009||Regarding clematis seeds: In 2006 I found three clematis seedlings near their parent plants which were mid-season bloomers. One clematis was a white double Belle De Woking. As an experiment, I sprinkled hundreds of dried seeds straight from the plants near the parent plants then all over a huge mulched garden. I stirred the mulch gently with my fingers so that the seeds would not blow away. It took about ten minutes. The summer of 2007 I found about thirty viney-seedlings which I took for weeds and threw out before I remembered that I had sprinkling the clematis seeds. I saved five seedlings and they all grew and I transplanted them. That same summer I just scattered handfulls of seeds all over and in 2008 there were five seedlings that I saved and pulled out a few more. I also found seedlings a distant mulched garden from the clematis Ramona plant.|
|calven||Feb 09, 2009||this site is great thanks for everything. i have one for you, how long from plucking my seed until i propagate? thank -calven|
|lust||Mar 22, 2009||Thank you for sharing the "baggy method". For the first time I managed to have 3 different seed species germinated in almost a week.
I still need help for transplanting though. hahahaha :-))))
Thanks again for sharing your expertise!!!!!|
|Patti Wolf||Mar 28, 2009||I have tried many times over the past 10 years to start my own seeds, but always ended up with seeds in starter packs that get leggy then fall over and die. After reading your site, I've decided to try again. Can't wait to try the baggy method. Someone told me that my seeds would grow long and thin then die because my lighting was wrong and the grow lights have to be raised as the plant grows. Is this correct? When I set up the grow area should the shop lights be right on top of the flats until they grow and then pulled up as they grow taller? Thanks!|
Lights are best held a few inches above the seedlings. Of course, as some seedlings grow faster than others, in practice you'll have some growing (almost) into the lights, and others a bit further away. This isn't a big problem, in my experience, as long as the difference isn't too large (a few inches).
|Dan Maguire||Apr 04, 2009||I tried your baggy method for many different seeds this year. Most worked great and it is more fun to see them sprout from the earliest stage. Seeds that didn't do well: Petunia, Spinach, Cardinal Climber. Seeds molded. Petunias are my biggest challenge - they are not doing well in starter soild either. Any advice? Thanks for your very helpful site!|
|Dan Maguire||Apr 05, 2009||I tried your baggy method for many different seeds this year. Most worked great and it is more fun to see them sprout from the earliest stage. Seeds that didn't do well: Petunia, Spinach, Cardinal Climber. Seeds molded. Petunias are my biggest challenge - they are not doing well in starter soild either. Any advice? Thanks for your very helpful site!|
Spinach - just sow outdoors in early spring. Cardinal climber should do fine in baggies. I've also done OK with petunia; they may benefit from a little extra warmth go germinate.
|Tessa||Apr 09, 2009||I love to use soil blocks and plug flats! Love this site- I was trying to get info on Lantana, but couldn't find anything :(. I'll be back though- very good info for just about everything else!|
|Ronald Walls||Apr 13, 2009||I have started seeds in a flat w/heat under them and once the seeds are up i put a grow light about 8 inches above them. All i get is about 4 inches of strings. They fall over and some die. others just lay there. What am i doing wrong?|
Depends on what seeds you're starting. Most seedlings need more light than a grow light 8 inches above (2-3 inches is better). And with the exception of heat-loving plants, most plants establish better at room temperature than with extra heat.
|Ronald Walls||Apr 13, 2009||plants were broccoli, cauliflower,cabbage and squash. I guess my tomato plants are doing the same thing.|
The cabbage and relatives certainly don't want it warm. Squash should be OK with warm, but needs good light. Same for tomatoes.
|Ronald Walls||Apr 19, 2009||Need help on planting peanuts. How to and all the info i can get. In NW Ohio.|
|Tammi Boone||Apr 20, 2009||I love your site. I love the picture of your Lenton Rose. I have been trying (online)to purchase seeds or plants but can't find one that looks like yours. They seem smaller. Could you help me the same plant that you have? Also I live in central west Mississippi. What is my zone and can this plant survive here. Is it a perenial?
Hi Tammi - I avoid giving gardening advice for zones very different from my own. You're probably in zone 8 or 9.
|Ronald||Apr 22, 2009||I planted potatos about a month ago and nothing has come up yet. Should i be worried?|
In most areas, the soil isn't warm enough yet for potatoes to really get going.
|Gerard Perkins||Apr 27, 2009||I read about seeds a lot or mayby all day but I love this website on seed germination.|
|Gerard perkins||Apr 27, 2009||Do you have sweet pea seeds or plants?If you do, please water them once a week to ensure healthy growth and I look foward to reading more stuff on germination. Have a good summer.
From Gerard Perkins.
|Clayton Wiebe, Saskatoon, Canada||Apr 28, 2009||I am having trouble with seedlings not being able to shed the seed coat and release the leaves. Are they too dry? Just seems to happen in seedling mix soil but very seldom if I use peat pellets. These are shrub seeds of Lonicera caerulea var. edulis.|
Yes, I occasionally have the same problem. Usually spritzing the seed coats with some water a few times will soften up the coat enough for the seed leaves to do their thing. Sometimes I've resorted to manually prying open the seed coat, but that's usually not necessary. If I know a particular seed is prone to this, I'll plant a little deeper to allow more time for the coat to soften.
|david / broockwood nusery||May 26, 2009||i do not know were you find the time to give all this information but it helped|
|Ronald||Jun 22, 2009||I live in Ohio and want to know when to plant peas for a fall harvest. Can you help me?|
I'm not good about fall crops. I intend to start some lettuce for a late harvest, but haven't heard of growing peas in fall.
|Mary Kings||Oct 15, 2009||Fascinating ideas. Can't wait to try the "baggy " method.|
| Neil Richardson||Nov 19, 2009||You have the best website I have found and I thank you for all the info and tips. My question is at what point do I take my plants away from the lights I am thinking it would be when I start to harden them up to set out, but not being sure I felt I should ask someone who knows. Thanks.|
Your seedlings shouldn't go without light for longer than they would naturally - so keep them under the lights until you are ready to harden them off outside (in other words: you're right!).
|Sarah||Jan 14, 2010||Thank you for working so hard to put this info packed website together! So many of my questions were answered, I stumbled upon this page to see if it was Ok to just go ahead and start the seeds in my dozens of 3.5 inch pots. Love them, but so tired of purchasing peat pellets. Thanks!|
|Judy Szabo||Jan 31, 2010||Dear Rob, this is just to tell you that I have been using your "baggy" method for the third year now, works perfectly. Thank you for the idea!I am just potting my germinated tomato seeds and thought you would like to know.
Judy from Budapest, Hungary, Europe
Wow! You're already getting tomatoes started? It will be another two months before I get mine going :-)
|YaYa||Mar 12, 2010||Wow! Thank the stars I found your site. I will be back to do much more reading. Good thing that is my other great love beside gardening......
Really, thank you, thank you, thank you!|
|Marcia||Apr 06, 2010||enjoyed your site. My question is: I had no trouble getting my seeds to germinate but wonder how to get them to fill out rather than become tall thin stems. Planted zinnia seeds, came up find but now they like a toothpick with two leaves at the top. How do I get them to fill out and become strong plants. Thank you for your response. |
Tall spindly growth is usually a symptom of too little light. Seedlings should either be right inside a bright window, or under fluorescent lights that are no more than 3 inches above the plants. Conditions that are too warm can also cause faster growth than is healthy for the seedlings. Zinnias probably do best growing on at 65-70F.
|Rose||May 30, 2010||Was delighted to discover your website and will definitely try my seeds with the bagging method. Always looking for proven shortcuts. The pictures do help to understand your methods.
Question: I have tried sowing both Tacca seeds and tubers (Bat flower) with no luck. Any suggestions would be gratefully appreciated. Thanks for all the time you spend sharing this information with others. Great work.
Rose ... British Columbia, Canada.|
Hi Rose. I've not tried Tacca myself; I suggest you ask for advice at an active forum, such as GardenWeb or DavesGarden.
|Sheri||Jul 17, 2010||Hi Rob. Discovered your website by chance after Googling codonopsis clematidea. Beautifully presented and informative. I garden on the south coast of England in a similar size plot and grom many of the same plants as you. Interested in your bagging method for seed germination - mine just go ino the fridge in damp vermiculite.|
|Carol M.||Sep 11, 2010||Your garden and your gardening skills are just wonderful!
I collect seeds from my plants, but I've been stumped this time. I would like to know what the seed from Clethra looks like. I've looked in the seed site with no results. Can you possibly help me or direct me to sites where Imight i.d. them.
Hmm, I've never grown clethra from seed - not successfully, anyway. I don't know where you'd find a picture showing it.
|Dana P||Oct 09, 2010||Rob, Greeting .Can I just spread the seeds of rose of sharon on a field behind my house with hopes of germination? Thak You|
I've heard of people for whom rose of sharon is almost a weed, with plenty of self-seeding occurring - but I've never seen volunteers in my garden. I guess it's possible that my shrub is sterile, I've never tried to germinate its seeds indoors either.
|justin||Jan 01, 2011||I promote small farms and I am trieing to find new planting methods cause some are harder to teach than others.Its weird because I am oniy 12. Iam stuggleing to find cheap seeds but Iwill make it though one way or another. I love your site. send me an email at email@example.com by.|
|Ken||Jan 24, 2011||I have good luck getting the seeds to grow, but, when exposed to the air, they fall over and die. They have white long legs, with nice leaves. what am I doing wrong ?
I start them in a starter kit that I made, from seed pods with starting soil, and a clear plastic top, no ventilization. They get to about 2" in height and again they die when exposed to the outer air ?
Don't leave the plastic top on after the seeds germinate - the seedlings need air circulation or they will succumb to fungal diseases. I suspect that's what went wrong with yours, although it also sounds like they may not be getting enough light (you need to set them right next to a bright window, or have fluorescent lights just a few inches above the seedlings).
|peter||Feb 03, 2011||Rob,
I am looking for info on seedlings, I have a large amount of capsicum seeds I germinated with heat and had a great success, I potted them on into small pots, unfortunatly the temperature dropped a week later and the tops fell over and withered, I decided to discard them but when I began removing the plants I noticed that the roots and base of the stem were very healthy looking, are these seedlings done for or having lost the seed leaves will they die without giving off any more shoots, many thanks in anticipation, Travellers@AlboxAlmeria.com. |
It sounds like your seedlings succumbed to damping-off (a fungal attack on young seedlings). They will not resprout, so it's best to start over. To prevent damping-off, make sure the soil is not too wet, and provide adequate air circulation.
|Tom White||Feb 14, 2011||What is the best way to water your potted seed? I am talking mostly vegetables, tomatos peppers cabbage melons etc|
I always water from the bottom, allowing the pots/cellpacks to absorb water poured into the tray in which they are placed.
|Caitlin Joseph||Apr 01, 2011||I'm chronicling my indoor seed starting this year on my blog! I worked on a farm and now want to apply some of what I learned at home in the city. Check out the first post.|
|elenska||Apr 15, 2011||Hi Rob, great site! I am trying to grow some plants from seed but really really do not want to buy lights, especially cause I have no space in my apartment. Is that a big problem? So what if they become leggy, can I just transplant them little deeper?|
They won't just be leggy, they'll be weak and subject to disease. You can't expect a plant to do well, even as a seedling, when denied one of its basic needs (bright light). For a smaller space, you could consider an under-the-cabinet fluorescent fixture - they're much smaller but cast the same quality of light.
|Margaret||Aug 05, 2011||I found you website by chance - looking for more about Asclepias and found you. I am what may be termed to be an old gardener, but always happy to find new ways to do anything. You mention filter paper in baggies. Baggies I think you mean ziplock plastic bags. What filter please.
I am a gardener in South Africa and have so many different species. My favourite plants are Moraeas and Lachenalias which are mainly winter growing and spring flowering. I live in what is known horticulturally as the Highveld - Gauteng province. A mild climate in that winter gets a few cold spells of minus 1 or 2 degrees centigrade mornings/nights in winter (now) and 25 to 35 degrees C in summer with summer rainfall. I am going to try to sell what we call "growbags". Annuals that are grown in black bags and sold as they start to flower. Usually plants that nurseries very seldom sell because they are generally unknown. I am trying a few American plants and so was looking to see what asclepias actually look like. We have some less beautiful that those in America so I am trying something new. |
Any porous paper that's fairly resistant to degradation works. Paper toweling degrades too fast in my experience, but coffee filters, like the ones I demonstrate on my baggy page, work nicely.
|Connie||Sep 03, 2011||Hi Rob,
My neighbor has a tree that I love, but I'm not sure what kind of tree it is. Anyway, The wind blew a few of the seed pods into my yard and I was wondering what the best was to prepare them and plant them would be. Do I need to dry them before I plant them? And what would be the best way to do that without killing them?
It really all depends on what species of tree it is. Find out from your neighbor, then you will be able to get specific advice from fellow gardeners.
|Christy||Nov 08, 2011||Hi Rob, i need help with several different types of plants. Lantana is my favorite and i am new at trying to grow a new plant from a seed that comes from my plant. Forgive my wording as i dont know all of the terminology..can u please tell me what to do to grow new lantana from my plant? I live in northeast Mississippi. They have done really good this summer and i am anxious to see if the ones in the ground will come back next year. I had one a couple yrs ago in a pot and it came back for about three yrs. I have two in pots and was wondering if they would live inside through the winter. I also have two in the ground and wonder if i need to cut them back and cover them with something. Thanks for any info u can provide!|
Lantana is a tender tropical; I would not expect it to survive in your garden through winter no matter how hard you try. Bringing them inside in pots may work. As for starting from seed - I expect that they would germinate just fine at room temperature or with a little warmth; started sometime in late March, you should have decent-sized seedlings by your last frost date (sometime in May).
|Eric||Nov 21, 2011||Hi Rob,
I am conducting a research project at Michigan State University. Our method includes the use of Coix lacryma-jobi (Job's Tears). We would like to order live plants. Do you have any recommendations of where we could order from? Thanks |
Afraid not; most suppliers of live plants don't carry plants typically grown as annuals, as Coix is. Best of luck in your quest.
|Brigitte||Dec 16, 2011||Hello Rob:
I am starting clivia using your baggie method. Any tips? they need both light and heat.
I've not started clivia myself, but you should be able to follow some of the tips on my baggy page to provide heat and light. I've not had to provide both to the same seeds, but it can certainly be done.
|george||Dec 25, 2011||as far as damping off the best wat to prvent it is use 2/3 peat moss to 1/3 perlite/vermiculite and just add a small amount of sterile compost mix even completely then you have no bad viruses or infections in the soil that tender seed are suceptible to thuroughly dampen soil mixture with very warm water cuase peat does not at first like to accept water warm penetrates it alot better then put seed on top of mixture and gently push it firm then cover it with 1/4 inch of vermiculite only and mist with water then cover with plastic till it germinates then remove plastic after 50% germinates this should almost elimanate the seed damping off and getting sick and dieing good luck! If you have any other problems or need input drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org|
|larry||Feb 21, 2012||Dear Rob, I have been working with native seeds that need special treatment. For instance I have tried to germinate Amsonia tabernaemontana for 3 years and had no luck( more that 1 or 2 seeds germinating so last February I took 14 seeds and put between 2 wet papaer towels and placed in a gallon ziplock bag. I promptly forgot about them and found them just before Christmas last year. Planted and all 14 came up. I put Dodecathion meadia into the fridge just like the blue star. Only had to leave for 21-30 days and viloa they are germinating. You can get the time for wet cold stratification from Prairie Moon Nursery. If you are interested in natives this is a great way to get them up.|
I agree - many wildflowers require cold stratification of some kind. For cases where I have personal experience, my germination results are shown on my plant pages.
|jan||Mar 14, 2012||I tried pretty much the same thing, only I used paper towels. They have a tendency to let the roots grow thru the paper towel and then you can't remove them. Use a tweezers to pick up the tiny started seeds, but do not pinch it. Just use the tip to lift them off the paper filter. works great. I am trying your method this year. wish me luck!|
|Mary||Mar 27, 2012||What can I plant in small spaces in Irish climate from Mar-May. I have some small spaces of soil out my backgarden that I want to fill.
I'm afraid that's such a broad question that a quick answer here won't be much help. There are several "plant finder" applications online that can help narrow down your choices by height preference, sun/shade requirements, bloom time, etc. I recommend you start there. Good luck!
|Leah||Jul 24, 2012||I like the baggy method idea, I'm going to give it a try. I haven't had much luck with starting seed indoors, mostly because I don't have a good place to put anything with bottom heat, and I certainly don't have room in my fridge. I've tried the baggy method with African Violet leaves, and my Rainbow's Quiet Riot is still there - taped to the wall, in a very light Vermiculite/Peat Moss mix. It even flowered in there! I did't intend to leave it for 2 1/2 years, but it never died, so it's still there. :)|
|James||Feb 15, 2013||Greetings Rob,
Very well thought out and organized website! I will now confess that I have been using your website for free! ; ) This interprets into me saying that I regularly check your database for seed starting tips as well as tomclothier.hort.net and Norm Deno's book and his online info as well. I've never tried the baggy system... (Please don't banish me from your site for my confession). I suppose it's a bit of laziness on my part and being a stay-at-home Dad that keeps me a bit too busy to check the baggies and other work related post-germination. This method of non-method has allowed me to continue to expand our gardens so that I can simply sow seed outside, giving the let-em-have-it treatment. Last year I was blessed to gather several large naturally occurring tufa rocks with dozens, if not hundreds, of holes for seeds. I know that all alpine and rock garden plant enthusiasts can't lay their hands on this great rock but before I had these rocks in our backyard I made several hyper-tufa pots. Drilling holes in these is, I think, may be equally effective. Success with these seeds in these little pockets, enduring the cold outdoors, will show success or perhaps not : ) As seeds germinate (or not) in the tufa, I will share my information with you. Anyway, I just thought I would drop you a paragraph and say thanks for your website and your info.
P.S. Will you be selling plants in 2013?|
Hi James, thanks for writing. Your method sounds interesting. I am hoping to play around with hypertufa a bit this year, but hadn't thought about starting seed in them as you describe.
As for selling plants - I do hope to have another local plant sale, after a year's hiatus, in late April. When I make up my mind for sure, details will be at my plant sale page.
|becka||Apr 11, 2013||Hi...I'm really new at this and am trying to start somewhat of a veggie garden in pots...i started oyt with sone seeds in the jiffy container things and i have sprouted some sugar snaps but seems my carrots aren't sprouting and my tomatoes are lagging...any advice? also when do i move them to a bigger container?|
You need more advice than I can provide in the space of a comment reply - I suggest you find a good primer on seed-starting, either on the web or an old-fashioned printed book (still my favorite way to absorb information ;-). Carrots are typically started directly outdoors. Tomatoes should be potted bigger when you see roots coming through the Jiffy pots (which should be bottom-watered, so they are always damp).
|marta||Apr 22, 2013||Thanks for the great info! We are taking your advice and journaling our experience to use for homeschool. We are starting some in baggies and some in little seed pots. We'll use our data to see percentages of successful seeds; which method germinated better; etc. I'm glad you mentioned sowing lots of seeds. I used the whole packet! I grew up gardening with my Grandparents but that was a long time ago. Thanks for all the free information and help. God bless you!!|
|Lea||Jun 15, 2013||I live in central Florida and love gardening. I however can't find Henand Chick seeds! Would you know where I can get the seeds plants locally?
I would not start Hens and Chicks from seed – they are very slow to establish that way. If you can't find a local source (either a nearby nursery, or a friendly neighbor willing to share a few offsets), they should be easy enough to find by mail order. Try looking through the Open Directory Listings for a few ideas.
|Willem||Jan 22, 2014||Hello rob, can you give me some more details about the watering? Watering from below putting the pots in a tray: how deep is thuis tray? How long do the pots have to stay in the tray? How mutch water do you put in the tray, how often do i have to water? I have à lot of questions ;-). I hope you will help me. Love your site, Willem (The Netherlands) |
I have my pots in trays all the time - when several of the pots look like they need water, I pour enough water into the tray to establish a water level sufficient to reach all of the pots (my seed-starting table isn't quite level, so the water tends to run to one side of the tray). For a good watering, I add water to perhaps 1-2 cm from the bottom of the tray. A few minutes after watering, there should be no free-standing water in the tray, it should all be absorbed. Frequency depends on the seedlings – when they are new and hardly growing, pots can go a week or two without watering; with larger thirsty seedlings, they may need water every two or three days. Because of this, I try to separate my pots into ones needing lots of water and those with smaller demand, to avoid drowning the ones that aren't so thirsty.
|Cornelia Webster||Mar 14, 2014||Rob---last year I tried starting seeds in coir----no other planting mix---started light feeding with Neptune when seedlings were very young----growth was stunted---- the broccoli was still only about two inches high after 2 months---I planted some of them out in June and amazingly they grew into pretty hefty plants late in the season---used as a potting mix and fed resulted in annual flower plants that didn't grow---any experience with this peat saving material ?|
I don't – I admit I've been using regular peat-based mixes all along, which have given me good results.
|Lincoln Mueller||Aug 06, 2014||I would like to get some Ladybell seeds. Where can I buy some?|
There are lots of online seed shops. DMOZ is a good place to start looking.
|Donna Bauman ||Oct 08, 2014||Dear Sir:
I'm looking for Job's Tears in packets of 20 seeds. I would need a quote for six packages.
Thank you for any time or effort on my behalf.|
See my Job's Tears seeds for sale page
|Donna Buman ||Oct 18, 2014||Dear Rob:
How do you divide Job's Tears. Will they sprout new plants. If you can successfully divide them. Would you transfer them to a swallow dish or individual pots or peat planters. How many plants should you get from one division?
Donna Bauman |
I have not divided them myself (since they are annual for me, there really isn't any reason to), but other grasses can typically be divided by digging up the clump and separating it into pieces that have both roots and stems/leaves. Each piece will easily grow into a new plant. You could put new plants into reasonably sized pots, or directly into garden soil. The number of divisions you can get will depend on the size of the plant you start with. You'll have to try to see what works best for your particular situation.
|Diana||Nov 24, 2014||Awesome, I shall return. (your in my favorites file for sure) We hope to build our own place soon and I will be looking for seeds/plants etc. Thank-you for all your hard work.|
|kristy||Feb 21, 2015||This website seems good but I cannot find the information that I NEED! do u know how many seeds to plant for oregano or a website where I can find that info? PLEASE HELP ME!!!!!|
I guess that would depend on how many plants you need. Quality oregano seed should germinate fairly well, so you don't need a whole lot of seed to get a decent number of plants.
|Donna Buman||Mar 01, 2015||Dear Rob:
I would like to order 60 Job Tear seeds. I would need a price quote for them. Please include all cost including shipping. I have eight plants growing nicely in the back yard,
Your Website is full of valuable necessary information for the novice gardener.
Thanks for providing a wide range of information. It's great to have support.
|Lilly Uhlen||Mar 07, 2015||Hi Rob,
Very good information. I have used the Deno Method on all my seeds. I tested seeds I have had for a mumber of years and I was amazed how well it works. Now I sow only Daylilies, ofcourse with Deno Methos. I have spread this method in every place, including Daves Garden|
|sheepwrecked||Mar 23, 2015||I recently saw several charts published by universities on length of time various seeds remain viable. Luckily I saw the charts AFTER I planted old corn seed last summer. Just as an fyi, here's my experience last year with old sweet corn seed (per the charts remains viable only 1-2 years):
In the summer of 2014 I planted 2 old packets of sweet corn, germinating them first on paper towels. One packet was Ferry-Morse Silver Bullet from 2003 bought in a store; of 100 seeds all germinated. The second packet was Henry Field’s Cotton Candy from 1996, bought mailorder; of 250 seeds, 248 germinated. I planted the seedlings one at a time into the rototilled garden bed and enjoyed plenty of sweet corn with enough to share and freeze. That’s basically 99% viability on corn seed as much as 18 years old. I wouldn’t throw anything away until I tried germinating it. I keep all my leftover seeds in sealed plastic bags in the fridge, but the 1996 packet had been moved with me through 3 different addresses.
|Lindsay Slover||Apr 02, 2015||Hello This year is my first year gardening and me and my father decided to grow multiple types of flowers from seeds and use paper pots and potting soil, we lightly water them every day and we make sure not to over water them, we occasionally taken them outside on nice days to get some sunlight and oxygen, we use standard light bulbs and keep them next to a window when they are inside. The flowers have sprouted into stems and they looked great for a while until the steams either started to die, slouch, or just not bloom into flowers? my dad told me he heard that this could be "stemming" where they grow a little and die?
is there anything I can do so save these flowers? please help
Don't expect them to bloom as seedlings under light – they will get going for real when they are outside in full sun and warm temperatures. If you find they are dying inside, growing tall but not sturdy, the most likely cause is not enough light. A "standard light bulb" may not be enough, especially if it is some distance away from the seedlings. Growing tall but weak can also be a symptom of overfertilizing, but you didn't mention applying fertilizer.
|Willem||Aug 04, 2015||Hi Rob, Here a question from the Netherlands: i love the Aquilegia, whats yr advice on growing them out of seeds, whats the best way: using the baggy? Doing this they look so fragile? Regards Willem|
Some aquilegias require cold treatment to germinate. For those especially, the baggy method is convenient. Just transplant them to pots as soon as you see the first roots, and they'll be fine. Many aquilegias can be started directly in soil without special treatment. This will be less work than using baggies, but you don't have as much control over the germination conditions.
|Tropicone||Apr 20, 2018||I am interested in the specific requirements of seeds of Portulaca grandiflora, which are very minute, and the seedlings are very fragile, once they germinate. They resemble tiny, delicate threads, at first. They seem to take awhile to get established, and to start growing rapidly. I believe that they are easier to propagate by cuttings, than establishing from seeds. What are your thoughts on this?|
They can be propagated both ways. Cuttings are indeed easy, for getting a few new plants – while seeds can yield a larger number of plants, but require more patience to get flowering plants.
|Sue Nelson||Feb 04, 2021||Very nice!! Thanks for sharing. It will help with my pandemic quarentine garden!!|
|Roseanne Moresco||Feb 15, 2021||Hi Rob ~ Just discovered your robsplants.com site while trying to keep busy inside. Am enjoying it very much.
We lived and gardened in Ithaca, NY for 40 years. Our gardens were on local pond & NARGS tours, and on the 2007 Garden Conservancy's Open Garden tour. We moved to be closer to our sons and we're starting our new gardens all over again.
All our very best to you, your family, and your gardens!!!|
|Jocelyn Mallory||Jan 19, 2023||I followed your recommendations and purchased pots from Novosel some years ago and was pleased with my purchase. I wanted to look at their offerings again and see the business has closed. |
Thanks for reporting back. I haven't needed new pots in many years, so hadn't noticed yet that they've left the scene.
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