Henrico County VA

In the garden

From seedlings to plants
Starting plants from seed takes a little work and a lot of attention to detail, but it can be a very rewarding experience.

Just ask Henrico Master Gardener Grace Harrison. Each year she starts about 1,500 plants from seed in her 8’x10’ home greenhouse to share with friends and family, sell at yard sales and plant in her garden.

“I can’t think of anything that’s more exciting than seeing those little plants starting to grow,” said Harrison. “It’s a big
commitment, especially if you’re going to start a lot of plants, but it’s also very satisfying.”

Part of the Master Gardeners’ Speakers Bureau, Harrison frequently speaks to groups about starting seeds. Her most important advice: “Do your research ahead of time.”

“Every seed has its own properties and needs,” she explained. “You need to know how much light seeds need to germinate, how long they take to germinate and whether they need scarification or stratification.”

Scarification involves breaking, scratching or softening the seed coat so that water can enter the seed and germination can begin. Stratification is used to provide an “artificial winter” for seeds that require a period of cold weather before they will germinate.

When to start seeds indoors is another important consideration. “You don’t want to start them too early inside,” said Harrison. “Your plants can get leggy if they don’t have enough space and light.”

Harrison starts herb seeds around the first of February.

She likes using the trays with pellets available from the “big box” stores. “They’re convenient,” she said, “and they have the bottom tray for watering and the plastic cover that helps keep the seeds moist until they germinate.”

“You have to transplant your seedlings if you use the pellets,” Harrison adds. “Seedlings need to be transplanted into larger pots as soon as they develop their second set of leaves.”

Harrison usually starts 2 seeds in each pellet in case one doesn't germinate. If both germinate, she sometimes lets both grow but most often snips off the smaller plant at the soil.

Light is an important factor in getting seeds to germinate. Harrison starts by putting the newly planted trays 2 -3” under grow lights. As seedlings grow, she raises the lights. Throughout the entire process, she leaves the lights on 16 hours each.

Seeds need to be kept at the right temperature in order to germinate, which can vary from plant to plant. Generally, 65 to 75 degrees is best for most plants.

Starting plants from seed can save money and allow you to have a greater variety of plants in your garden. “Plus,” said Harrison, “it means a lot more to some people to be able to say I started this myself!”

More information about propagating plants from seeds is available online at http://www.pubs.ext.vt.edu (see no. 426-001). To schedule a master gardener speaker, contact Henrico Extension at 501-5160.
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