Bev Johnson 

Master Gardener

Bunkey decided last year that buying plants was too limiting so he determined to start his own. He bought all the proper equipment, covered flats, seed starting mix, shop lights and chains to put them at the proper distance from the new sprouts, heating cables and timers. He set up shop in a corner of the basement. 

It was mostly a failure because he didn’t read planting information in the front pages of most seed catalogs he ordered the seeds from nor did he read the backs of the packets he bought locally. 

One catalog he ordered from had eleven symbols just for flowers. They tell their buyers whether to plant in full sun, part sun, part shade or full shade. If the flower is suited for a hanging basket or a container. For flowers, if it is scented, edible a good cut flower, or if it attracts bees and/or butterflies. For instance, Mignonette has three symbols under its picture in the catalog. It is a good cut flower, highly scented and attracts bees. For vegetables, the symbols indicate whether a vine is a bush, how long before germination, about how long till harvest and, often something about flavor. 

The first thing Bunkey planted was carnations. He just popped them into the soil. Had he read the back of the packet he would have found out he had to freeze the seeds for 5 to 7 days before planting. His pansies never came up and he planted them twice. He planted the seeds then popped the flat under the grow lights. Pansies need full dark to geminate. He had better luck with Salvia as they do need light to germinate; 24 to 48 hours of it to trigger its light requirement. Many seeds, cleome for instance, need to be chilled for 5 to 7 days to trigger germination. This is why cleome return every spring even though they are an annual. The cold winter is the trigger. 

Bunkey has a whole shelf of gardening books. He needs to use them to look up scarification and stratification. Stratification is simply chilling or in some cases freezing the seeds to jump start germination. Scarification is scarring a seed coat. It is used for seeds like lupin and sweet peas who have very thick coats. If you have the patience, you can file a hole in each seed, but an easier way is to pour very warm water on the seeds and let them sit overnight. 

The seed companies want you to be successful so you will buy their seeds again, so they spend a lot of money learning the best ways to plant and grow their seeds. That being said, do read the back of a seed packet before you buy it. You may not want to put that much energy into starting a fussy seed. 

Starting your own seeds will save you money and you will have a larger array of varieties to chose from. If all you want to plant are petunias or inpatients, don’t bother to start your own. Every mart and nursery will have them in every color and shape as they are one of the most popular flowers sold. If however, you want a spider aster, or orange and yellow snapdragon, or a open pollinated tomato or melon. Do start your own. After all, it’s your garden. 

Tip: start snaps and celery next month. They take a long time to grow. Lissianthus should be started this week to get a blooms, although the leaves are pretty too if you forget.