Growing Plants from Seeds

Start small. Grow from Seed

Sow and reap!

As a self-proclaimed plant nerd, I love to linger over the exotic names and enticing descriptions on those multi-color, seed packets. How do I choose between Cosmic Purple carrots with dazzling, purple skins and crunchy, orange middles and Black Velvet Nasturtiums with dark, ruby-red flowers—delicious as well as beautiful—and easy to grow from seed?

As an artist, I choose the beautifully illustrated packages of the Hudson Valley Seed Company before the seed. Each seed packet is illustrated with an artist’s imagination. Who could stop from trying the organic Velvet Queen Sunflower seeds and envision 100 sunflowers growing from 100 seeds in one packet?

As a lazy and frugal gardener, some years, I choose the easy way to grow my seeds. I sow them directly into the ground at the end of May or early June... no messing with seed starter trays, peat pots and unruly seedlings. Directly sown seeds will deliver the dream of a garden filled with waves of colorful blossoms, generous plantings of cilantro for fresh salsa and fall’s harvest of unique and warty pumpkins in time for Halloween.

If you wait to sow your seeds directly in the garden, I find that planting seeds can be simpler, as well as less expensive. A packet of seeds can provide dozens of the same plant for about one-third of the price. When planting, keep it simple. Choose the seeds that like to be planted directly into the garden or containers. Follow the specific instructions on the seed packet. Keep soil evenly moist while seeds are germinating and sprouts will pop up in no time! Thin your sprouts. This will allow the young plants room to grow into their mature size. Sometimes, you have to be cruel to be kind. One of the most basic and wonderful things that a gardener can do is to plant a seed, tend to it and watch it grow.

 

Simply Irresistible Direct-Sow Seeds… Organic Double Click Cosmos from Hudson Valley Seed Company: The artwork alone will stoke your horticultural imagination and encourage your garden dreams to become reality. The Double Click Cosmos have double-dreamy, pink flowers—ranging from light pink to delicious cranberry. Imagine a sea of pink elegance… 70 days from planting. Art pack: 75 seeds or forget the art and grab the Farm Pack with 675 seeds!

The Birds & Bees Sunflowers from Renee’s Garden: Plant a garden for yourself and also the birds and bees. These 6- to 8-foot tall sunflowers are a pollinators’ dream with their golden-yellow petals and chocolate-brown centers that provide rich pollen and nectar for honeybees, native bees and butterflies. When seeds mature, they become oil-rich kernels that have softer shells than most sunflowers--a nutrition-packed snack for birds. Start sowing seeds outdoors at end of May or when all danger of frost has passed. (Temps should be consistently 50 degrees day and night.) Read the easy-to-follow directions for tips for thinning, growing and harvesting on the packet.

‘Red Warty Thing’ Pumpkin from Botanical Interest (Cucurbita maxima): This peculiar beast was developed from the 1897 heirloom pumpkin ‘Victor’ and spent many years in the U.S. Seed Bank. Even though the red, bumpy skin is perfectly scary for Halloween, this 10-20 pound pumpkin also has a delicious flavor. Whether you carve it or eat it, it’s always a show-stopper that is fun to grow from seed. Follow the easy instructions and tips on the seed package… Best to sow seeds outdoors 2-4 weeks after average last frost when the soil is warm enough.

Zinnia ‘Whiligig Mixed Colors’ from Lake Valley Seed (Zinnia elegans): This heirloom flower is an annual that looks it best when planted in large swaths in the garden.  The large groupings of color is also the best way to attract butterflies and other pollinators. Zinnias are wonderful summer annuals that will stand up to mid-summer’s heat. Plant seeds in the ground when danger of frost is over and soil has warmed up. Zinnias are available in many colors—single or mixed colors—perfect in your garden or snipped as cut flowers.

Cat Grass from Lake Valley Seed (Avena sativa): Don’t be so selfish. Think about your cat for a change! Edible cat grass grows from untreated, oat grass seeds. The seeds are packed with nutrients and fiber which are perfect for a cat’s finicky digestion. It’s not necessary to wait until spring to plant these seeds because they will easily grow in a pot indoors any time of the year. Shortly after planting, usually less than a week, the seeds will be sprouting...no need for thinning. Let the cat keep the grass trimmed! Plant new seeds at intervals, so kitty will always have a container of fresh grass.

 

‘Cool to Know’ Seed Terms

Heirloom: Heirloom seeds are typically defined as open-pollinated varieties that are the results from natural selection rather than a hybridization process. Some experts say that seed varieties that are over 50 years old are heirlooms. Others say that if it was developed before the 1940s and 50s, it is classified as an heirloom.  Seeds saved from an heirloom will produce the same characteristics as the parent. Good examples of heirloom tomatoes are Costaluto Genovese, Black Krim and Brandywine. In the past, heirloom seeds were passed down from generation to generation. Although now, commercial seed producing companies will grow seeds and sell them to seed packet companies that sell to retail consumers.

Organic: The words, “Certified Organic” are used to describe the legalities of how a plant is grown and processed. In the U.S., companies must be ‘in compliance’ with rules and regulations that are specified by the USDA’s National Organic Program. It details that the land where the crops are grown cannot have prohibitive substances applied on it for at least three years before a harvest. The organic seeds must be grown without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. No irradiation, use of sewage sludge or genetic engineering can be used.

Treated or Untreated: Treated seeds are coated with a fungicide. Treated seeds are generally used for commercial crops to protect the germinating seed from pathogens in wet or cold soils. If a seed packet has the words, ‘treated seeds’ it should contain specific information on it. Treated seeds should not be used in the organic production of food. 

Open-pollinated (OP): Open-pollinated seeds are those that are pollinated through wind, insects, self-pollination or from other natural means. The resulting plants that grow from these seeds will produce plants with characteristics like the parent plant from which the seeds were harvested.

Cultivar: A plant variety is grown in cultivation through selective breeding. The cultivar name appears after the genus and species on seed packets and in garden catalogs. For example: ‘Rhapsody’ is the cultivar name in Butterhead Lettuce ‘Rhapsody’.

—The Home Garden Seed Association