Once upon a seed
We love to sow and grow our own annual flowering plants. There is a measure of satisfaction from the activity that is greater than any that we grow from store-bought transplants.
Growing annuals in the flower border helps to provide colour from spring to fall, bridging the gaps between perennials. By growing your annuals from seed, you get a head start and save some money – and you’ll also get a lot of pleasure from it.
You can start many seeds now through early May, indoors in flats or cell packs and many other seeds lend themselves to sowing direct into the garden soil as early as the second week of April.
Always check the date on the package before you buy. The sell-by date printed on the packet is equally important for seeds as the fresh produce that you purchase from your grocery store and guarantees freshness and successful germination. On the reverse side of each package, you will find complete growing advice, including the number of days you can expect to maturity and whether to plant in sun or shade (essential information!).
Sowing seeds can be as simple or sophisticated as you choose. A sunny window can provide sufficient light, or you may opt for supplemental grow lights. Plasticdomed mini-greenhouses with cell-pack inserts are an excellent alternative to a full-sized greenhouse. The humidity dome helps to seal in moisture and encourages germination. Indoor lighting systems, heating coils and self-watering equipment are available if you are looking for a more advanced approach.
Be sure to use a professional lightweight potting mix, like ProMix Seed Starting Mix, to promote optimum growth. Seed-starting mixes contain sphagnum peat moss and perlite or vermiculite. They have great water retention and drain well.
Peat pellets are another option. They are made from compressed sphagnum peat moss and have a mesh cover. Add water to these pellets and they expand. You can use peat pellets to sow seeds or to root cuttings.
What else will you need?
We recommend that you purchase a small desk fan while shopping for your seeds and supplies. This will help protect against damping off; a fungal disease, which infects young seedlings when there is a lack of air circulation and excessive watering. Place the fan in the same room as your seeding trays to improve air circulation.
ProMix root booster helps all plants develop a strong root system. It has a high concentration of phosphorous, 5-15-5, for strong and rapid root growth in seedlings. Begin feeding seedlings with starter fertilizer once they have their first set of true leaves.
Some plants require up to four months of growth before being planted in the garden. Geraniums are slow-growing and require at least this long to prepare for the outdoors. However, the majority of seeds are ready to be transplanted outdoors in six to 12 weeks from the date they are sown. Seed packets will usually recommend when to start seeds indoors.
Have fun and remember that odds are a packet of seeds is your best bet, if you are betting on anything!
Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada. He reaches over 2 million Canadians with his gardening/environment messages every week. Receive his free monthly newsletter at www.markcullen.com
Ben Cullen is a professional gardener with a keen interest in food gardening and the environment. You can follow both Mark and Ben on Twitter (@MarkCullen4), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/MarkCullenGardening/) and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/markcullengardening/).