I teach basic seed starting for beginners classes every year and while there are often some people who are true beginners and have never started seeds before, more people who seek out a class are gardeners who have tried starting seeds and had some failures. So I like to keep seed starting very simple. All I want you to do is think like a seed.
All I want you to remember is:
Seeds WANT to live. The very meaning of life for a seed is to germinate and make a plant. Most of the time, we just have to get out of the way.
Seeds need 5 Things:
Water Seeds need to be well hydrated to germinate. Think about how we soak our peas to speed germination. But they don’t want to be sitting in water. You need to check the soil each day and make sure the top of the soil isn’t drying up and hardening. Sometime even misting is enough.
Temperature Each seed needs the soil (not just the air) to reach a certain temperature before it starts to grow. I learned early that just because I liked to plant peas on St. Patrick’s Day, that didn’t mean that worked in Colorado. Our soil warms up later than other places and the peas weren’t coming up until it was warmer. Each seed has a temperature it prefers and it just sits in the soil until it gets that.
Light A few seeds like lettuce need light to germinate….so you can’t plant them beneath the soil. Seeds also need light to keep growing, which is why they get weak and spindly growing inside away from bright light.
Air Notice that soil isn’t in this list. Seeds don’t care much if the soil is full of amendments or a special seed starting mix. (The plant will have opinions later….but for now we’re just thinking about the seed.) Seeds by design carry their own food. They do need air. Air in the soil they are growing in for their tender little roots to move in. Heavy clay soil is tough for a tiny root…there’s no place for it to go. Seeds also need air above ground. Breezes lightly flowing among young seedlings make the young plants strong and protect them from fungus.
Time Time is the most important issue for beginners. Most often when beginners think they have failed, it isn’t because the seeds didn’t come up. It’s because they didn’t come up YET! Don’t give up too quickly. Some seeds germinate immediately, but some need an extra week or two until conditions are just right.
All the information you need is on the back of each seed packet. Don’t over think seed starting….just offer the seeds a little hospitality with a comfortable environment and they’ll do what seeds want to do.
Seeds WANT to live.