One of the great pleasures of spring is starting plants from seed. Here is a photo-recipe for how I start most of my seeds, using the fantastic zinnia seeds from Renee’s Garden. In fact, Renee’s has provided some packets of zinnias for me to give away in conjunction with this blog post. Add a comment about zinnias over the next five days and you’ll be entered in the drawing to win. I’ll be mailing groups of zinnia packets to two people who comment here.
Here are the zinnias we’re giving away to two people who comment on this blog post. Be sure to read the back of a package for the best timing for starting seeds. Zinnias get started about four to six weeks before you can put them outside. If you’re gardening in northern areas (Cape Cod north) you’ll want to wait until late April or even early May to start your zinnias indoors. Other plants such as broccoli and most perennials can be started earlier, and if you live south of Massachusetts you can probably start your zinnias pretty soon too.
Be sure to use new seed starting mix so that you won’t have problems with weeds and fungus kill (aka damping off). As I often have in the past, I used Espoma SS8 8-Quart Organic Seed Starter for this batch of seeds.
This photo shows the difference between the wet mix on the left and the dry on the right. Be sure to get your seed starting mix really wet BEFORE you fill your pots of flats. Otherwise the peat will shed the water leaving the top of the soil looking wet but really being dry underneath. I mix the water (you’ll be amazed at how much it takes) in with my hands in a large bowl or plastic bin and then put the moist mix into the pots or six packs afterwards.
Don’t pack the moist mix in your containers too tightly. Just scoop it in and shake the container to let it settle. If you push it in tightly you’ll squeeze the air out and this makes it harder for the young roots to grow into the soil.
You can start seeds in fiber pots, rolled newspaper tubes, recycled yogurt containers (be sure to punch holes in the bottom) or plastic six packs that you put in a tray like these Seed starter trays 120 LARGE CELLS total (20 trays of 6 cells each) + 20 Labels. I find that most plastic six packs can be used several times if you’re gentle with them.
Once you have the wet seed starting mix in the containers, it’s time to add the seeds. Read your seed packet to see if the seeds you’re starting should be covered with soil or not. Zinnia seeds do get covered, so I used a pen top to make a small hole in each plastic cell. I will drop one seed into each hole. Your plants will grow bigger and faster if you don’t put more than one per pot or cell in your flat.
Sometimes it’s hard to get just one seed in every hole or pot. The method that works well for me is to dump the seeds into one hand and hold the seed package in the other hand. I use the corner of the packet to separate one seed from the rest and push it into its place in the soil.
Once all the seeds are in the flat I cover the soil over them gently with my fingers. If the seeds I’m sowing need light to germinate I put the seeds right on top of the soil (no hole) and pat them gently so that I know the seed is making good contact with the damp soil.
Since I cover my flats with clear plastic while the seeds germinate, I don’t use labels that stick up. Instead, I write the plants’ names on the six packs with a permanent marker.
After the seeds are in place and the flats labeled, I water them briefly to settle the soil and make sure the seeds are damp. Then I cover the flats with clear plastic. You can use plastic wrap or recycled clear bags.
The plastic keeps the seed starting mix moist until germination. Once I see the speck of green that tells me the seed has sprouted, I remove the plastic.
Zinnias can be sown right in the ground as well. I have done this for several years very successfully, but the past two springs our weather was so cool and damp that the first sowing of seeds rotted. So this year, just to be safe, I’ll start two flats of seeds inside for my “jump start” plants, and will sow other seeds in the ground the first week in June. Those of you who have warm spring weather can sow your zinnias directly into the garden.
The Dog pretends to be well behaved next to my zinnia patch. The plants in this garden are about three to four weeks along. Zinnias love the heat, so they usually take off in early July when our weather gets warm.
One of the things I love best is to go into my seed-starting shed with a cup of coffee in the morning, or tea in the afternoon, and check on the flats to see what’s germinated. Most seed packets will give you a clue as to how long those seeds will take to sprout. Be sure to provide your seedlings with plenty of light and introduce them to the “real sunshine” and wind outdoors gradually. Once all danger of frost is past and the night temperatures are above 50 degrees I will move these flats of young plants into a part-shade location for a couple of days to harden them off. I try and time this with a stretch of cloudy weather as well, but do avoid strong storms while the plants are fresh from the indoors. Heavy rain and wind can damage tender plants.
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