Green Patch: Start Your Seeds Indoors This Winter

Expert answers to your herb-growing questions.

| December/January 2009

  • While you are stuck indoors this winter, decide what type of garden will fit your space and needs. From left, here are some examples of gardens to consider: A long, narrow island bed; a window box kitchen garden; a Mexican four-square layout; or a raised bed formed by a retaining wall.
    Gayle Ford
  • Whiteflies look like miniscule gnats as adults.
    Photo courtesy USDA Agricultural Research Service
  • If you don’t have a greenhouse, use the brightest window of your home or a grow light to nurture your seedlings.

Q. This year I want to grow some of my herb plants from seeds. What are the steps to starting seeds over the winter?

A. Seed starting is like baking bread—you need the right mix of ingredients, the right temperature and viable yeast. In the case of seed starting, the ingredient list includes a lightweight growing medium and containers for planting. Provide the right temperature with a warm greenhouse or sunny window; and seeds, of course, are the viable catalyst.

Use a commercial potting mix or seedling mix for the growing medium. Choose from egg cartons, yogurt cups, flats of six-cell packs or small pots when it comes to containers. (Note: Fiber- or peat-based pots should be soaked well before adding soil.) Like yeast, seeds have a limited life—be sure the seeds are fresh or packaged for the upcoming growing season for optimum germination.

The directions on the back of the seed packet will tell you all the specifics for starting that particular seed, along with germination time, spacing and transplant information. Be aware that germination time will vary during winter. Some herbs (parsley is an example) can take up to a month to germinate. Soaking seeds overnight often will help speed
up germination.



Fill pots or flats to within 1/4 inch of the top with moistened potting or seedling mix. Plant seeds according to package instructions, paying special attention to whether seeds should or should not be covered. (Some seeds need light in order to germinate.) Use a fine sprayer to moisten the soil and keep it continually moist until seeds have germinated. Then, place pots in bright light or set them just a few inches below fluorescent bulbs to produce strong, healthy plants. Small pots dry out quickly, so check often and keep the soil slightly moist. Fertilize with a weak solution of liquid organic fertilizer when seedlings are about an inch high, then transplant into larger pots as needed. Most seedlings can go in the ground after all danger of frost has passed.

Q. Every year I start basil from seed without any problem. But last spring I tried growing echinacea from seed with no success. Do you have any tips for starting echinacea from seed?



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