CERTIFIED TEXAS EXPERT GARDENER — Accomplish cost-effective gardening with germinating seeds

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, January 17, 2024

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Fellow gardeners, we have experienced our coldest temperatures of the season. Luckily our local meteorologist provided us with numerous warnings to protect the three P’s: pets, pipes and plants from extremely cold weather.

Protecting our pets is by far the easiest task-simply move our companions indoors for warmth. The other two require much more effort on our part, especially wrapping water lines, which is laborious but will prove costly if ignored, or if you forget to cover one faucet (learned this the hard way last year).

Let’s discuss one of my favorite topics as we get ready for spring (as we are forced indoors due to cold temps) and that is starting plants from seeds. Many of us enjoy germinating seeds to transplant into our spring vegetable gardens and flowerbeds.

There is an enormous selection of seeds available through mail order catalogues with every seed type imaginable: vegetable, herb or flower.

There are numerous benefits to germinating seeds with the primary reason being cost. Purchasing seeds is cost effective since the cost of seeds is much less expensive than buying individual plants.

A seed packet (on average) costs about $2 for 20 to 30 seeds. The cost of purchasing a single plant (to be transplanted), such as a tomato or pepper plant is near $2 per plant.

Looking to purchase 10 plants, plan on spending around $20 or so and note this is for one type of plant. Gardeners can sometimes ‘get lucky’ and find lower plant prices (sales) or in ‘bargain bins’ but this doesn’t always meet our needs.

Flowering plants have similar costs when plants are small but the cost dramatically increases with container size.

Another reason to germinate seeds is it allows gardeners a multitude of choices, which are not available to us otherwise. Local garden centers, box stores, and plant distributors provide us with an extremely limited number of plants, which ‘they’ select for us.

This gardener doesn’t ‘allow’ others to limit plant variety and selection, meaning that if I’m unable to source plants locally, my search is expanded. All Seed catalogues are welcome!

Regardless of what you choose to plant, let me remove a bit of aggravation. Starting seeds can be affordable and enjoyable if you have a plan in place to assist you. Follow the steps below for guidance:

  • Review seed catalogues, make selections, and place orders online to speed this process along. The internet is hugely beneficial when searching for specific plant varieties.
  • Gather seed planting materials (cost effective container types include paper egg cartons, paper cups, containers with plastic domes, or make your own cups out of newspaper). Another option is to purchase seed starting kits.
  • Recycled/ repurposed containers must be thoroughly cleaned with a bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) then soaking containers in solution for 10-minutes before rinsing.
  • Germination (seed starting) mix is needed. It’s easy to make (I make a large batgerch every year) by sifting sphagnum peat with vermiculite in equal parts. Mix well and moisten to the point you can make a ball and water does not drip when you squeeze it.
  • Determine seeds light & temperature requirements- some seeds require ‘darkness’ to germinate. Read the seed packet for this information. Germination mats are inexpensive and will drastically increase the germination rate of many seed varieties such as tomato, pepper and numerous flowering plants.
  • Sprinkle cinnamon over the top of the germination medium to mitigate “damping off” disease, since cinnamon kills the fungus, which attacks the seedlings causing the stem to rot at the base of the plant.

Seed planting depth is different for each plant type. If the seeds require darkness, shallow planting is necessary (width of the seed). Seeds requiring light can be lightly dusted with vermiculite, which will hold moisture close to the seed allowing in light.

ALWAYS water seedling from the bottom and provide good air circulation with elevated humidity.

Allow 2 – 4 true leaves to form on the seedlings before transplanting into a larger container or relocating them outside if the temperature is warm enough. Plants must be “hardened off” before planting into the garden. Place them in a shady, protected area, protected from the sun and wind for a few hours per day, gradually increasing the amount of light exposure.

Let’s go out and ‘germinate’ ourselves a greener, more sustainable world, one plant at a time!

Send Certified Texas Expert Gardener John Green your questions and please continue sending comments to jongreene57@gmail.com.