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Fun Ideas: "Flowers"
Ideas Main


Growing Flowers from Seeds: Do's and Don'ts
By Wes Fessler

22 May 2007


Introduction:

Growing flowers from seeds is a perfectly natural and simple thing to do, but learning from others mistakes can make it easier and more fun for you and your family. Many people believe that growing flowers is as simple as digging a hole in the yard and dropping in a few seeds. In some cases this is true, but in others it fails miserably. This kind of inconsistency is not much fun when you are making a family activity out of it. You want to get it right the first time so your loved ones will continue to be amazed at your outstanding skills and abilities. This article will give you to insight into common mistakes that many people (including myself) have made when planting flowers from seeds and a few tips on how to do it right the first time around.

After making casualties of many seeds dropped into holes in my yard, I decided to start my seeds in a more controlled environment by taking them indoors. Of course you could always go down to the garden center and buy flowers that are already mature enough to plant in the yard, but that is more expensive and much not quite as rewarding. Planting flowers from seeds saves you money and gives you a sense of accomplishment that can’t be bought at a store. By starting your flowers from seeds, you are able to get more décor for the money and an opportunity to do something creative and fun with your family.



Supplies List:
Not all of these supplies will apply to your specific needs, but they are listed for completeness.
  1. Peat moss
  2. Compost
  3. Flower Seeds
  4. Containers (various possibilities)
  5. Marking pen
  6. Plant naming labels
  7. Planting fertilizer
  8. 5 gallon bucket
  9. Fluorescent Shop Light
  10. Fan
  11. Electric Automatic Timer
  12. Water Sprayer
  13. Germinating flats with lids
  14. Peat moss pellets
  15. Plastic Cups



When to Plant Your Flower Seeds:

Do – Start seeds indoors well before the last frost (according to the recommendations on your seed packet) so your flowers will be ready when temperatures are suitable.

Do – Keep the temperature where your plants grow at 70 degrees F or higher.

Don’t – Allow your germinating seeds to experience significant changes in temperature, especially changes that expose them to cold.

 
Generally getting your seeds started about 6 to 8 weeks before the last potential frost is a good idea. This will get your young plants to a stage of development that is suited to planting in your yard when the danger of frost has passed. By planting this early you increase your chances of seeing blooms in the first season. Always refer to the back of your seed package to determine the ideal times for planting as each type of seed type will have different instructions for the ideal planting times and methods.

While freezing temperatures exist outside, treat your seeds to a pleasant temperature of at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit as they develop comfortably indoors. (1) Developing plants need warmth, especially in their young and delicate stages of growth. Find a place in your home where you are confident that you can maintain a warm and constant temperature.



What to Plant:

Do – Ask someone at your local garden center what types of flowers do well in your area and which types are easy to develop from seeds.

You may have a grand image in your mind of the variety of flowers that you wish to grow in your garden, but it may surprise you to know that some types of flowers may not grow well in your area. It is helpful to consult with someone who knows about the types of flowers that will work well for you. By asking at your local garden center, you should be able to get an idea of which flower types are best suited to the environment of your local area. Just because a store sells a large variety of flower seed packets, does not mean that all of them will thrive where you live. With this information, make an informed decision about the flowers you will grow.



Choose a Type of Container for Starting Your Seeds:

Do – Choose a type of container for starting your seeds. (germinating flats, plastic cups, flower pots, etc)

Do – Assure that your containers are “sterile.”

Do – Be sure your container allows adequate drainage of water.

Do – Choose a container that is approximately 4 inches deep to allow the roots to develop.
 
Almost any type of container will work for growing seeds. Some containers are better suited for the purpose than others, but there is no need to spend a lot of money in acquiring them. Containers as simple as a plastic drinking cups work perfectly well and at minimal expense. The following are some ideas to keep in mind when selecting a container:

1. Sterile - Containers for planting seeds should be “sterile.” This simply means that they must be free of contaminants such as bacteria and fungus that can cause plant diseases that may potentially kill your plants or prevent them from germinating altogether.

New items like plastic cups or germinating flats with lids are acceptably sterile for planting seeds.

(2) Old plastic flower pots and trays can be made sterile by soaking them in a 1:9 bleach and water solution (1 part bleach and 9 parts water). Be sure to rinse thoroughly after cleaning.

2. Drainage – Containers you select should allow for adequate drainage of water. Never allow water to collect at the bottom of container that you grow plants in. Most plastic pots and germination trays have holes in them for this purpose. If you choose to use plastic drinking cups or similar containers, be sure to cut or poke holes in the bottom large enough to allow water to drain freely.

3. Germinating Flats Or Pots? - Germinating flats are plastic trays that are divided into several small separate compartments designed for germinating many seeds at the same time. Many of these trays come with clear plastic lids that can be placed over the plants while the seeds are germinating. These trays are quite inexpensive and are an excellent option for developing seeds in the first stages of growth. Most are too shallow to support a flower’s growth to maturity, so a larger container will be needed once they have outgrown the tray, but they are an excellent way to start a large number of seeds in a small space. Additionally, peat moss pellets are frequently available for the trays that provide an excellent self-contained soil environment for each seedling in the tray. This can be a great container choice for the initial development of your seeds.

Alternatively, you can plant your seeds directly into pots, or plastic drinking cups from the very beginning. This method can be nearly as effective as the germination tray, but additional steps must be taken to obtain the similar results.

I use germination trays until the flower’s roots outgrow the peat moss pellets. You know the plant is ready for a larger container when the roots begin to protrude from the bottom of the peat moss pellet. At that point I transplant the entire pellet (with the developing plant in it) to a plastic cup filled ¾ with loose soil composed of peat moss and compost. This is not to say that this is what you should do, but it is an option that you may consider.

4. Depth Of Container – It is a good idea to have a container that is about 4 inches deep. This allows the root system to develop and spread until the plant is ready for the garden.



Preparing Soil:

Do - decide what type of soil you will use(premixed planting soil, your own mixture, peat moss pellets and germination trays).

Do – Fill your container three quarters with the soil of your choice.

Don’t – Compact your soil in its container. The goal is to provide an environment that allows some air to be trapped while water can pass through (slowly).

Don’t – Dig up soil from your yard to plant your seeds in unless you are willing to sterilize it.

There are a variety of planting soils available for purchase from garden centers and all may work perfectly well for planting. The benefit of purchasing these soils is that they are “sterile” in the package. They are reasonably inexpensive and will produce quality plants when added to your container.

You may consider purchasing peat moss pellets if you will be using germination trays to grow your seeds. Peat moss pellets come in very small circular packets that expand when you add water. They are designed to fill up one space each in the germination trays. They are quite convenient to use and are an effective soil for starting seeds.

I use peat moss pellets (with the germination trays) to get the seeds started, and then graduate the entire pellet with the plant in it to a soil of my own preparation. I find that a half and half mixture of peat moss and compost makes a great environment for the young plant. I fill a plastic cup three quarters with the mixture and place the new plant into it. The roots then have a larger environment to spread out in and the plant can develop freely until it is ready to be transplanted into the garden. Alternatively, you can plant the seeds in plastic cups or pots from the beginning. It is a matter of what you find to work the best and what is most convenient for you.

If you prefer to plant your seeds directly into larger containers (like plastic cups or pots), you will need a good soil. I use a half and half mixture of peat moss and compost for starting seeds. A five-gallon bucket and a small gardening shovel can be used to mix the peat moss and compost together. By filling the bucket only half-way the soil can be easily mixed without spilling it. It is a good idea to start with a new bucket, or one that has been cleaned with a 1:9 bleach and water solution to reduce the chance of contaminating substances and organisms. You can experiment with mixing other soil types together if you wish.

When placing soil in your container, try not to mash it down too much. Patting the soil on the top gently to provide an even surface will not harm your planting, but avoid compacting in tightly. The goal is to create a soil that traps some air for the seed while allowing water to pass through (slowly). These conditions will help your seeds to germinate and allow the roots to develop more freely.

Although it may be a tempting thing to do, avoid digging up dirt from your yard to grow your seeds in. Your seeds may or may not grow in your dirt, but the chance of introducing contaminants to your seeds is greatly increased by doing this. Such dirt can be sterilized by baking it in an oven, but that takes a lot of effort and may get you in trouble with your spouse. Unless you are willing to go to that much trouble, it is better to spend a few dollars on a couple of soil components that you can mix together or a pre-mixed planting soil.



Planting the Seeds:

Do – Read the planting instructions on the back of your seed package carefully and follow the directions exactly as they are stated.

Do – Moisten the soil before planting your seeds.

Do – Plant your seeds at the appropriate depth (as determined from the planting instructions on their package).

Do – Drop two or three seeds in each container and cover with soil if necessary.

Do – Check to be sure that adequate moisture is present where your seeds are planted.

Do – Mark the containers with the names of the plants that are in them before you forget what they are.

Don’t – Allow your seeds to dry out.

Your first concern in planting flower seeds should be to read the back of the seed package completely. Different flowers require different care in planting. The ideal planting conditions for your specific seeds are described on the package. Items such as planting depth, spacing, days to germination, and days to bloom as well as directions, care, and when to plant are all listed on the package. Additionally some plant seed manufacturers list telephone numbers or other ways to contact them about additional information. Don’t miss out on this most basic but important source of information. 

Before planting the seeds, add water to the soil to get it moist. Be careful not to saturate the soil completely, as this may prevent any air from getting to your seed. Try to apply enough water to get your soil to a spongy wet consistency. It should not crumble, but it should not be dripping wet either.

Plant your seeds according to the instructions given on package they came in with attention given to depth. You may be surprised to discover that very small seeds can be planted on the surface of the soil and require no hole to be placed in at all. Other seeds may require up to an inch or even more. Most flowers seeds will be planted at a depth of less than an inch, but always check the package instructions for the ideal planting depth.

Once you have established your planting depth, you are ready to drop in your seeds. It is a good idea to drop two or three seeds into each container. Space the seeds about a quarter of an inch from each other and then cover with soil (if required). Spacing the seeds in this way will allow each plant to grow without interfering with the others. If all three of your seeds grow and develop leaves, you can then select the best of the group and pluck out the rest (this is called thinning). This is necessary to allow the best plant to utilize the resources that are available to it and it prevents roots from interfering with one another. Thinning should be done before a complex root system is able to develop, so don’t wait too long. (3) It is good to do thin your plants when they have grown their second set of leaves.

Once your seeds are planted, and ready to grow, be certain that there is adequate moisture at the surface where your seeds were planted. A final few drops of water at this point should be added if needed to assure that your seed stays moist. The first few days are important for getting the plants to germinate, and this won’t happen without adequate moisture.

Now that your seeds are planted get some plant naming labels or write on the container what type of flower you have planted. If you don’t mark them at this point, and you have planted other types of seeds as well, you will have a difficult time determining what plant is in what pot.



Care After Planting:

Do – Cover the containers with plastic after the seeds have been planted to retain moisture for germination.

Covering for germination - When the seeds are planted and the soil is sufficiently moist, you can promote germination of your seeds by covering the entire container with clear plastic or glass. Germination flats usually come with clear plastic lids that are easy to put on and remove. Covering the plants will help to seal in moisture and create a more humid environment that helps the seed to grow. Keep an eye on containers while the cover is on them. If they appear to be drying out, remove the cover and add water. Otherwise keep the cover on and allow your plants to develop. When the first leaves unfold, you can remove the cover and leave it off.



Lighting:

Do – Provide a source of light for the plants for 14-16 hours per day.

Do – Use a timer to turn the lights on and off when needed.

Don’t – Allow your young plants to be exposed to direct sunlight.

Lighting - If you have a suitable location near a window for your plants, use the area to take advantage of the natural light that it delivers during the day. Don’t allow your plants to stand in direct sun at this point. Allow them the light of the window but protect them from direct rays. By growing plants indoors, however, you will need to supplement this light with a bit of artificial light as well. A standard shop light with fluorescent bulbs will be sufficient for this task. Other lights are available that will do the job slightly better, but for the price, a fluorescent shop light will do nicely. When it is feasible, keep your lights just a few inches above the tallest leaves for optimal growth. If possible keep the lights on your plants for approximately 14-16 hours daily. This can be accomplished with an electric automatic timer. Allowing your plants a little dark time is what mother nature does and it will allow your plants to grow at an optimal level.



Ventilation:

Do – Use a fan (optional) to provide ventilation.

Ventilation – If you really want to baby your plants, your can set an electric fan in the room near them. By setting an electric automatic timer to your fan, you can set it to turn on and off through the day. This removes stagnant air and simulates wind-- another element that mother nature normally provides her plants.



Watering:

Do – Water enough but NOT too much.

Do – Check with your finger to be sure your plant needs water.

Do – Water with a fine spray rather than heavy drops.


Don’t – Water your plants when they don’t need water.

One of the biggest challenges in getting your seeds to grow into flowers is providing the correct amount of water. Too much and too little water are harmful to your plants. This is something many people have to experience to understand (at least that was the case for me). It is obvious that not enough water will cause your plants to wilt, brown, and eventually die. Too much water can also damage your plants, but in even more ways. Having saturated soil can displace air in the soil and make it impossible for it to reach the root system of the plant. Excess water can also cause fungal diseases to take hold in the soil and rot the roots. One of the most important things you can do for your plants is to pay close attention to the amount of water you give them.

Providing the right amount of water takes more than just running a watering can over your plants everyday. It requires you to frequently check how moist the soil is by feeling it with your finger and looking for subtle hints. If you press your finger into the soil and feel wetness, it is probably best to wait a while before watering your plants again. If you are unable to tell for sure from the surface, push your finger slightly under the surface to decide what your soil needs. Make a practice of checking your plants in this way and water them only when they need it. It is important not to let the roots get dry, but it is necessary to allow much of the moisture in the soil to be absorbed before watering again.

There are other signs that watering may be needed but it is important to look at the condition of the plant as a whole and not confuse some of the signs of being too dry with those of being too wet. (4) When a plant begins to wilt, it can indicate either too much water or too little. When this happens, use the finger test to determine whether the soil is wet or dry. This will help you to know whether the plant really needs water or not. Also remember that you want your soil to feel spongy, but not either crumbly or dripping wet.

The method you use to water can also help determine whether you water too much or too little. Spraying your plants with fine mist is better than allowing great drops of water or heavy sprays to beat down on them. Consider using a spray bottle or pump sprayer to water your flowers. Avoid a garden hose when possible for new plants unless the spray and pressure can be adequately controlled.



Fertilizing:

Do – Fertlize your plant when it has grown a few leaves.

When your plant has grown a few leaves, you can help it along with a mild flower fertilizer. Follow the directions on the container and don’t over do it, but a bit of the right nutrients can really begin to give your plants a boost at this point.



Transplanting the Flowers:

Do – Check the seed package to be sure of the appropriate time for transplanting.
 
Do – Get your plant used to being outside gradually. Place it in the shade, then later into the sun, and bring it in at night.

Do – Wait for a cool day, if possible, to plant your flowers.

Do – Dig a hole twice as deep as the pot to provide loose soil for your roots.

Do – Place loose soil into the hole with loose soil until it is about the same size as the root ball.

Do – Add water into the hole before planting.

Do – Loosen the roots slightly before placing in the hole.

Do – Fill around the plant with dirt until the plant is seated firmly but not compressed into the ground.

Don’t – Transplant your flowers until they have been acclimated to outdoor conditions.

Preparing your plants for transplant. - Generally when your plants have developed their third set of leaves they are about ready to be transplanted in to your yard. Check back of your seed package to be sure of their recommended time for transplanting (if they provide one).

Although your plants have come a long way at this point, they are not as invincible as you might hope. Take a little time to introduce them to the environment they will live in. This can take anywhere from a few days to a week depending on the type of plant you have.

Begin by setting your plant out in the shade for several hours. You will also want to bring your plants inside at night for the first couple of days; especially if the nights are cold. Then after a couple of days, allow it to stand in partial sun for a few hours (keeping an eye on it). Eventually when you and your plant have the courage and strength, allow your plant to stand in the sun for a full day. When it can tolerate a full day of sun, you are ready to transplant your flower into your yard! If your plant is meant for partial shade or shade, you may even get through this process faster.

Plant Your Flowers – At last you are ready to get those flowers in the ground. Try to plant them on a cool day if possible. This will give them even more time to prepare for the hot weather to come. Dig a hole that is about twice as deep as the pot. This will assure that the ground is loosened for your plants roots to grow in. You should then refill the hole to approximately the same depth as your pot (you can check it by sticking the whole pot into the hole to see if the hole is about the right size). Add some water inside the hole  before you place your flower in it.

Now turn the pot upside down and tap it lightly until you can remove the soil from its container easily. Pull lightly on the dirt and root system to loosen it. Place the plant into the hole firmly, holding it in place with one hand and filling in dirt with the other. Fill dirt  around your plant and back into the hole until it is firmly seated but not compressed. A little more water around the plant will finish off your work.

Now you can stand back with your family and look at the beautiful new addition to your landscape. You have overcome the challenges associated with growing flowers from seeds which is no small accomplishment. You and your family now have a new hobby that can be enjoyed every year and add more beauty to your home.

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References:

1. mamashealth.com. “Seedlings.”
http://www.mamashealth.com/garden/seeds.asp
[Accessed 20 May 2007]

2. Relf, Diane. “Tools and Equipment.”  
http://www.ext.vt.edu/departments/envirohort/monthlytips/january/notejane.html
[Accessed 21 May 2007]

3. Paris, Twilia “Get a Start with Seeds.”
http://www.cob.montevallo.edu/RegisterLR/seeds.htm
[Accessed 21 May 2007]

4. Rogers, Nick. “Over Watering Your Garden .”
http://chetday.com/overwatering.htm
[Accessed 20 May 2007]

Growing Flowers from Seeds: Do's and Don'ts

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