Seed Sowing - The Saga Continues!
by Marg Fleming
by Marg Fleming

1979 - BSc. Botany University of Toronto, 1981 - MSc. Forestry University of Toronto, 1982-1986 - Horticulture Teaching Master - Niagara College , St. Catherines Ontario., 1986 - 2000 - Owner/Operator of Cedar Valley Botanical Gardens - Brighton Ontario, 2000- Present - Manager of Horticulture Toronto Zoo

Public Speaking Topics - Perennials, house plants, garden design

March 3, 2002

Last week we visited seed sowing and several suggestions that could contribute to a more successful cultivation of your own garden plants. Seed pre-treatment, a recommended medium, potential containers, and temperature tips were all touched upon. It is however important to note that by just following a few basic rules, your own experience can be the best teacher.
With all of the appropriate seed sowing gear engaged, how do we proceed? Single large seeds may be planted one at a time. Smaller fine seeds can be tapped slowly from the package onto the soil surface or into a small depression in the mix depending on their preference for light or darkness when germinating. A useful tool for this stage of planting is a dibble. Essentially a contoured stick, a dibble assists in making holes, trenches, or depressions in the mix to plant the seeds. Using your hands may accomplish the task, but there is less risk of introducing disease at your work site with a tool that can be easily and frequently cleaned – even sterilized.
With seeds all installed in the mix, firm the soil with the dibble or some other clean, flat object. This not only tucks in seeds placed below soil level, but it also firms-in surface sown seeds. Surface seeds are then more likely to stand their ground so to speak when they are treated to their first watering. That said, take a watering can equipped with a fine rose, and using plain tepid water gently apply to the planted surface. It is at this point that you will see just how level the surface of the soil is. Applying water too quickly will cause the water to puddle at the lowest point dislodging seeds and depositing them in the depression along with the zealously applied water. This is a frustrating lesson to irrigate evenly and slowly giving the seeds a firm grip on the medium without a mass exodus. Soon the new root that emerges will stabilize the seed and less caution will be required for subsequent waterings.
A seed is a neat packet of energy that contains a new plant. The parent from which it was shed provided all the offspring required to survive in the time between the formation of its first root (radicle) and the self sufficiency represented by the unfolding of its first set of true leaves. So fertilizing at this point is unnecessary – and even dangerous. Fungi that may lurk in the mix would thrive on added nutrients. Unless a seed and seedling are compromised in some way, most diseases cannot penetrate a plant’s built-in defenses. But a light unintentional bump or scratch to the stem will provide an entry for disease. So by deleting fertilizer from the watering schedule until the maturing seedling requires this extra help, fungi and other diseases will not be encouraged to linger.
Enough food energy is contained within a seed to bring it to its first set of true leaves. Some plants have special “seed leaves” or cotyledons – those thick fleshy structures that open out from (for example) a germinating bean seed. These seed leaves are chock full of energy to assist the seed through its initial stages of life. The depleted seed leaves eventually shrivel and drop off leaving the plant to engage its new leaves and make its own energy. At this point we can help with the occasional dose of fertilizer.
Seed packets purchased from a reputable source should give you an indication of the normal amount of time required for each plant species to germinate. Keep the planted mix evenly moist, but never wet. Be thorough in your watering to ensure that the soil depths have been penetrated by the water, then wait for the soil to approach dry before watering again. Ensuring that no surplus moisture enters the soil will prevent the seeds from becoming cold for an extended period – certain death for vulnerable new growth.
Keep a small fan running in the room where seeds are germinating to disperse pockets of still moist air that may attract fungal infection. On warm, sunny, late winter days moving air will also prevent heat build-up on plants and deliver the necessary gases to eager plant parts. Your seedlings do not have to be “ruffled” by air directed on to the foliage. By simply keeping the air in the room moving, damp pockets and moist foliage can not linger.
Next time – when to be cruel, when to be kind.


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