Flowers & Blooms

Starting Perennials from Seed II

As explained in part I, there are certain perennial species and varieties that are very suitable to be grown from seeds. Growing these plants from seeds offers numerous advantages, so it’s actually very advisable to use this method of starting them.

Here are some basic tips on how to start your chosen perennials from seeds.

When and Where?

One thing you need to remember is that good germinating and growing your seedlings often means using the most natural conditions a plant might encounter in the wild. This is why it’s best to plant your seeds in the pots outside rather than indoors.

When it comes to timing, most of the cold-hardy perennial seeds prefer a long cold period before they germinate. This is why it’s best to start them in December or January and give them enough time before the spring.

Most of the perennials actually benefit from a very basic seed-starting method, so there’s no special “magic” or care you need to perform.

Perennial plant

Starting the Seeds

While each genus has its own requirements, here are some basic tips on how to start perennials from seeds:

  • Make your own mix. You should make your own seed-starting soil for perennials. This is fun, easy and it saves you a lot of money. Premade mixes tend to be expensive and you don’t really need them. To make your own mix, take two parts compressed, peat-based soiless potting soil. Place it in a thug or wheelbarrow. An acceptable substitute is coir. Add one part clean, washed sand to this mix. Ideal sand is the one used for children’s sandboxes. This will improve drainage. You should also add a tablespoon of slow-release fertilizer pellets for every cubic foot of ingredients. This will provide ongoing nourishment for your plant. Mix this all together. It’s best to use packaged materials that are clean and sterile to produce a light and crumbly mix.
  • Use a topdressing of gravel. This will help the seed get started. You should take a plastic pot you have at hand. Fill it loosely with potting mix flush to the brim. Tamp the soil and leave about quarter inch of space below the rim. You should sow the entire packet of seeds into a single pot. Larger seed (lupines, for example), should be sown directly on the soil mix. Top-dress the soil with sterile aquarium gravel (BBs size works the best). Fine seed can be sown directly on a topdressing of the gravel. Don’t bury the seeds. Using this topdressing method will keep the soil beneath evenly moist and it will provide a sterile zone for the stems of your germinating seeds. This will minimize damping off, a bad fungus that can cause mass seedling die-off.
  • Water gently. You need to make sure not to disturb the seed scattered on the topdressing. This is why you should water the seed pots patiently, from the bottom up. Use any shallow basin filled with just enough water to rise to about an inch below the seed-pot rims. Let it soak for about 15 minutes until the soil is wet to the top.
  • Protect the seeds. You need to protect your seeds at all times. Place them in a sunny area to protect them from wind. If the winter weather is too dry, you may have to water the seed pots a few times with a spray. Be patient. Remember, some plant species and genera need several seasons to germinate.
  • Prickling out. You need to prick out individual seedlings. This is when you separate the seedling in the pot they were sown in to individual small pots you’ll use to grow them into strong plants. It’s best to use pots that are about 2 1/4 inches square in size and filled with a sterile potting mix. These should be used for single, individual seedlings. To repot your seedling, carefully pull the root ball of seedlings apart. Place each individual seedling into its own pot. You need to protect the new seedlings from any excessive summer sun. It’s best to use a shade cloth for over a month or two. This will help them adapt better and survive the shock of potting. Once they have had time to expand their roots in these small individual pots, they are ready to be planted in the ground.

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