If you are in the process of starting seeds inside, here are a few tips to make your seedlings strong and robust. There are four steps.
The more light the better. I use a shop light with four bulbs and keep the lights as close to the plants as possible. You want to give the plant as many lumens as possible. The string in the picture is a way for me to move the lights up and down.
Use an oscillating fan to blow on the seedlings. You want to exercise them by moving them back and forth to strengthen their stalks.
Add a slow release fertilizer to your potting mix. I use Osmocote Plus plus I use a 1/4 tsp water soluble fertilizer in my watering can.
I use Pro-Mix potting mix. It includes Mycorrhizal fungi which helps plant growth. They have a number of different versions, but any will do. This mix usually does not include fertilizer.
Rudbeckia hirta, also called Black-Eyed Susan is a short-lived perennial, which can also be sown as an annual. I planted seeds outside on March 26th and these are the flowers On July 23rd.
Here is how to get a 1000 seeds in just ten minutes.
First tear off the outer parts of the flower. Note – I wear a glove on my left hand to protect it from the sticky parts. Note that I also leave a 2″ stem so that it is easy to hold.
Using a philips head screwdriver, run it through the seed head to remove the seeds. The seeds are the tiny black objects in the picture above. I’ve found that you can usually get about a hundred seeds from one flower.
I also use parchment paper to collect the seeds and put them in a plastic bag.These seed heads have been sitting around for a couple of months in a paper bag, so they are plenty dry.
The plants are still flowering, but not as vigorously.
Collecting seeds is the easy way to have hundreds of plants in the spring for no cost. If you figure that many plants can cost $10.00, you could save hundreds and thousands of dollars by collecting and planting your own seeds.
Almost every plant will produce seeds. You just need to be eagle-eyed to spot the seeds and gather them as they ripen up.
I have already collected seed from maltese cross, milkweed, poppy, rue, columbine, echinacea, golden alexander and lots more.
The trick is to allow the seed to ripen and dry on the plant and then grab it just before it might drop to the ground or be blown by the wind. I place all my seeds in a lunch paper bag and mark the bag with a black permanent marker.
Each plant will usually give you hundreds/thousands of seeds, so this is a great way to share with friends.
I also allow some of the seed to fall to the ground as I collect it. This will ensure that you have some seedlings coming in the spring at that exact spot.
The final tip is to only select seed from the best plants. Any plants that do particularly well, I mark with gold paracord so I remember to collect these seeds.
Since I had a ten day Florida vacation planned, I thought I’d try and germinate my tropical milkweed seeds while I was gone.
The trick is to keep the seeds moist and warm during that time and make sure they don’t dry out. I not only watered the seed bed well, but I also covered it with a plastic well-fitting top. I put the shop lights right above the plastic lid. I then left on vacation and after ten days, this is what I came home to.
I came home to hundreds of seedlings and look forward to transplanting them into other containers.
I cut out one cell so that I am left with 35 cells. I water from the bottom through that hole.
I put this 1020 tray in a heavy-duty plastic tray. It prevents leaks. The 1020 trays are usually made of cheap plastic. GreenhouseMegastore has different qualities, buy what you can afford.
I use my preferred potting mix as a base – BX Pro-Mix with some Osmocote. You can find this at either a nursery, Walmart or Menards and some smaller hardware stores. Any Pro-Mix product should be fine. This product is what the professional nurseries use. ProMix adds lime to all it’s products since the peat moss is acidic.
Make sure the mix is well watered before you add the seeds.
I put 1 to 3 seeds on top of the mix. It depends on how expensive the seeds are and how many I have.
I top the seeds with a light layer of vermiculite.
I spray the vermiculite with water.
I label each cell with the date, seed name and number of seeds. I use vinyl blinds that I have taken down. These are easy to cut and label with a pencil.
I also put in about 1/8 inch of water in the bottom of the tray in case the mix needs to absorb some water.
In the past I have used heating mats to achieve this temperature, but I noticed a difference this year since I have started using different lights.
I now use and recommend, Lithonia Lighting, 4-Light Grey Fluorescent Heavy-Duty Shop Light. They use T8 bulbs. I now uses these bulbs close to the seed trays with a plastic cover. LED light bulbs have 1800 lumens/bulb. The traditional T8 bulbs put out 2600 lumens/bulb. I prefer the traditional bulbs because they put out more light.
As you can see from the picture, there isn’t much difference between trays with or without bottom heat. In fact the bottom heat tray seems to have poorer germination. I did notice that the bottom heat trays got up to 97 degrees while the trays with just the 4 bulb lights got up to 77 degrees. I eventually turned off the bottom heat since it seemed to be to high.
I probably won’t use my heating mats in the future since my new lights put out enough heat to get seeds to germinate.
If you have seeds leftover from previous years, rather than throwing them away, test them out now and save yourself some money.
I like to test them out by using conditions similar to what I normally use. I put in three seeds in each cell and mark each with the name of the seed and the date. I cover the seeds with a plastic lid to keep things moist and also use a shop light to keep things warm inside.
If the seeds germinate, then you know you can use them this year.
I used some vermiculite I had, but you can use any good potting mix. I don’t plan on keeping these plants – they are just letting me know the germination rate.
Note – I am also testing some new seeds from dollarseed.com
Kale – 3 days
Marigold Cracker Jack – 5 days – Dollarseed.com
Zinnia – California Giant – 3 days – Dollarseed.com
Tropical Milkweed – 7 days – Dollarseed.com
Maltese Cross – Dollarseed.com
Dames Rocket – Dollarseed.com
Purple globe amaranth – Toms – 3 days – almost all seeds germinated.
Rudbeckia hirta – 5 days – from my garden.
Tomatoes – 4 days
Zinnia – small gold – 4 days. – one seed germinated.
I was recently asked where I found my seeds for the different plants I grow.
The best place to get seeds is your own garden. Save them in paper bags and label them.I like to let them dry on the plant and then put them in a paper bag. If you save your own seeds, then you don’t have to buy them.
The 2nd best place will be MY garden.I save lots of seeds every year in St. Louis. You are welcome to come over and get seeds in the fall.
The 3rd best place for seeds is Google. Do a search with the scientific name and you will find numerous seed resources. Many times I will visit the Missouri Botanical Garden and find a new plant I want to try. Take a picture of the plant and its name and then there’s a good chance you can find it online.
Another option are some of the Facebook online groups. Sometimes, many of the people are willing to share seeds for the price of a SASE.