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Basic Seed Sowing
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

February 6, 2005

February is a grey area in gardening where we continue to care for plants that remind us of the holiday past while looking ahead to warmer days when our attention can be focused outdoors. For those of us who grow some of our own plants from seed, this is also a time of preparation to make ready for sowing indoors in March and April. Here is some standard equipment to consider.

A plastic flat with drainage holes is a traditional sowing container. It is shallow enough to accommodate the right soil depth required by germinating seeds. Deeper containers hold too much mix. Redundant soil absorbs too much water that seedlings will be unable to use. This over-availability of water will keep the little plant cold, and in its resulting weakened state it would be prone to disease. Flats are shallow, and the large exposed soil surface area compared to the soil volume allows the air to dry out the mix relatively quickly. Though you will have to check frequently that the soil does not stay dry for too long, these brief dry intervals between watering will allow the plantlets to drain well and warm up. This helps to enhance their vigor so lingering pathogens will find it difficult to penetrate their defenses.

Fancy inserts can be purchased for placing inside regular flats. These inserts are designed with individual rows molded into the plastic, so sowing crooked rows becomes a thing of the past. Other advantages include minimizing the chances of an incidental disease compromising an entire flat of seedlings because each row of seeds is separate from the next. Somewhat of a disadvantage may be that the medium tends to dry out more quickly, but monitoring your seeds regularly will soon give you an indication of the seedling’s needs, and a corresponding irrigation schedule can be determined.

Other inserts called plug trays may be purchased for use in a supporting flat. Plug trays are divided into individual square compartments (available in a variety of sizes) that hold the sowing medium. Each square (as small as one centimeter) can be sown with one or more seeds that can be quickly re-potted into larger “digs” when roots and shoots outgrow the confines of the plug.

Seedling soil mix is also an important factor in successful seed raising. A commercial seed sowing mix can be purchased that is light and soft for new rootlets to penetrate. This type of mix has no virtual soil in it, but contains a variety of components that allow for nutrition and drainage, as well as water retention. Ask at your local garden centre for a soil-less seed sowing mix.

Seeds contain all the nutrient required by the embryonic plant to root, sprout, and begin life as a young seedling. Feeding becomes necessary as the plant matures and requires a larger container for its developing roots. But to ensure a healthy start, it would be wise to purchase some No Damp fungicide to deter fungal disease from snuffing out the lives of your newly developing plantlets. Carefully follow directions on the bottle to avoid over-treating.

Besides the use of tepid water to irrigate seeds and young plants, this is the basic equipment necessary to begin your young botanical nursery. Your seeds will respond well to 8 hours of sunlight per day, and a warm, well-ventilated room.

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