Wouldn’t you think I had said it all by now? I’ve been talking about seeds and seed starting for over a week now, right?
In my post Friday, however, I touched on things like not setting yourself up for failure and about reading the seed packets. Remember, I’ve been doing this stuff in earnest for 25 years (and as a dabbler since I could walk probably so we’re talking 5 decades of experience). Anyone who owns 2 books about seed starting (I mean, does anyone even own books anymore and not just use the internet?) has to be pretty hard-core!
That doesn’t mean that seed starting is always hard. But it does mean that in certain cases–I mentioned a couple last week–you might need to do certain things for your seeds to help them. That’s what this post is about.
The first thing you always want to know is whether you have to cover the seeds or whether they need light to germinate. Most seeds are fine being covered and being in the dark. I start most of my seeds in those little coir wafers I mentioned. I just drop them into the holes in the little discs, put them in my dark furnace room where it’s warm, and check them every few days to see if they’ve sprouted.
I do put the discs (which you have to wet so that they expand) into little trays and I cover the trays. I have re-usable trays for this purpose that I’ve used for decades.
Now clearly if the seeds need light to germinate, I can’t do that. I will go through all the same steps (coir disc in the tray with the plastic cover to retain moisture) but I’ll put the tray in a sunny south window, again checking every few days for germination.
But what happens if your seed package says “needs a period of cold to germinate.” In that case, you have a couple of options. Since it’s usually perennials or cold-hardy annuals that have these instructions, you can do whatever you would normally do to start them and then set them in a protected cold place, checking them as you would do any other seeds. The instructions will often tell you how long the cold period will be, but it is quite often a significant period of cold–a month or more, because what you are trying to do is to simulate the cold dormancy of winter that the seed would have gone through if it remained on the plant out-of-doors.
Be careful if you are using your refrigerator for this cold place. And extra refrigerator is a great place to do this so long as it doesn’t have fruits or vegetables in it. Some fruits and vegetables can give off compounds that can interfere with plants, particularly bulbs. But you don’t want to take the risk that an apple or an onion is going to undo all your hard work in chilling your seeds. Better to find a protected place–even under a flower pot outside–than to risk using your current fridge.
This period of cold is called stratification, or cold stratifying in case you run across those “technical” terms.
But I see I’ve gone on for quite some time so we’ll continue again on Friday about how to protect seeds from that most dreaded of diseases, damping off!