Growing from seed is popular, and when it works well it’s a very cost effective way of increasing your plant stock. Sadly, however, success with seeds isn’t guaranteed and you can sometimes be forgiven for thinking that one or two varieties almost go out of their way to be down-right impossible!
While there is no one single magic trick or sure-fire tip to ensure that absolutely everything you want to grow will germinate well and thrive, there are a few ways that you can slant the odds in your favour and get the best out of your seeds.
Do Exactly What it Says
Every seed packet comes with a set of instructions. Some of these are very good, some rather less so and others bordering on the useless, but unfortunately it’s not always easy to know which. Whether they’re written in full, or provide you with some kind of pictorial hieroglyphics to decipher, do your level best to follow them as completely as you can, particularly if the variety in question is new to you.
For some seeds, the germination and aftercare conditions – particularly in terms of temperature – are very precise, for others, they can be looked on as more of a “serving suggestion” than a hard-and-fast rule. With experience you’ll inevitably discover which is which, but for a first go with a different plant, or even just a different seed company, it’s probably best to just do as you’re told.
There’s an obvious problem with this approach if the seed is something you’ve collected yourself, but there is a simple way around it – cheat! Find one or two packets of commercially available seeds of the same plant and see what they suggest; it isn’t a perfect solution, but it should at least give you a reasonable idea of how to start yours off.
Although there’s some leeway in sowing times, as a general rule the nearer to the middle of the recommended period you plant your seeds, the more likely you are to have good results in the long run. There are good reasons, of course, for earlier or later sowings and in a heated greenhouse or with the benefit of an electric propagator you can happily bring many things on a month or so early, but unless you’re doing it for a particular purpose, nature tends to know best.
The other big thing to remember about timing is that although seeds can remain viable for many years – though probably not as long as the urban myth about grain from the pyramids growing successfully would suggest – germination rates do fall off. In practical terms, this means that older seeds produce fewer plants, so to maximise your chances of success always use seed that is within its recommended date.
How much you water depends largely on the particular needs of the seeds you’re trying to grow and the conditions in which you’re cultivating them. It’s obviously an important thing to get right, particularly in the early days of germination and growth, but using the right kind of water can play just as big a role. Although many environmentally conscious gardeners collect and use rainwater or grey water for general irrigation purposes, if you want to give your seeds the best start in life, it’s probably a good idea not to use anything other than tap water, at least until they are well established. Both butt and grey water can play host to a range of bacteria and other microorganisms which may prove a potential threat to the seeds health, so there’s no point in creating unnecessary problems for yourself. There’ll be plenty of time to re-establish your green credentials once your seedlings have become proper plants.
As every gardener knows, getting your seeds to germinate is, of course, nowhere near the end of the story. There may well be a long way still to go before you can begin to congratulate yourself too completely on what you’ve achieved, but when it comes to satisfaction there’s not much to beat growing something from seed!