Start your own seeds indoors

Start your own seeds indoors?At one time, I thought that plant propagation meant simply sticking a seed in the ground and watching it grow. That might be okay for vegetables like beans, cucumbers, melons and squash, or some ornamentals. However, some vegetable and flower seeds need some tenderness to urge them to germinate.

Tomatoes seeds, for instance, need to be planted about six weeks before the last frost. Those tomato plants we buy in early spring were started in a nursery greenhouse many weeks before. That’s not to say you can’t just plant tomato seeds directly in the garden. However, to germinate, tomato seeds need a soil temperature between 70 and 80F. The cooler the soil, the longer it takes for them to germinate. The chances of all the tiny seedlings planted directly in the garden surviving being pummeled by wind and rain, insects and infections are very high. Tomatoes and many other plants need to be between six and 10 inches tall before they are placed in the garden. This insures that they are healthy, and strong enough to withstand the vicissitudes of nature.

It’s not difficult to start plants from seed inside. You need a warm, sunny spot (like a kitchen window) small pots (see the photo above, a good growing medium and some patience.

However, if you want to grow a lot of plants from seed, you may need some additional help. And you might want to keep a record of your progress.

The photo above includes most of the items I use to propagate plants from seed and for plants from cuttings.

I keep a garden journal, which includes observations, musings, insights and just about whatever seeps out of my brain when I’m propagating, as well as planting in my yard and garden. I scrounged some small sturdy boxes to store stuff in as well.

I am experimenting with different types of seed starting pots. I like the idea of coir (pronounced coy-er) pots, because they are made from coconut fiber, which is a renewable resource. However, I have also found that they dry out quicker than peat moss pots. Peat moss is not a renewable resource, though. The cow waste pots seem to be working well, but they’re expensive, and, because of that, I won’t be using them in the future.

In the upper left of the photo, you see a binder. In it I keep records of plantings, germination, transplanting, and harvesting, as well as expenses, specific information about plants, and chores I need to do. Since I am a very messy OCD individual (an accomplishment, don’t you think?), there are generally notes everywhere, so I need some structure to remember what I’m doing.

The gloves in the photo, I wear in the winter, mostly outside, when I am taking cuttings. I use my bare hands when I’m sowing indoors, though.

I learned very early that when I’m starting 50 or so plants from seed, that I will not remember which is which and since many seedlings look just alike, I use plant labels. Any type of label will do. Popsicle sticks, wooden coffee stirrers, just about anything you can write on can make a good plant label.

I also use a seed sower…that green thing in the foreground that resembles a magnifying glass. Most seeds are tiny, and I certainly don’t have surgeon’s hands, so I use this seed sower. It’s got many different sized distribution holes to accommodate different sizes of seeds.

The pencil and the chopstick in the photo I use as dibbles, for making holes in the growing medium. The scissors are for snipping out weaker seedlings.

You may also notice my laptop resting under my journal in the left. I use this to research care and propagation of different plants. Also, in the background are seed catalogues. Seed catalogues contain a plethora of information about plant propagation. Many of them also carry some of the materials in the photo.

If you feel you want to try your luck at plant propagation, Virginia Tech has a great site with propagation information.  This is part of a series of articles I will be writing on plant propagation.


Photo: Clockwise from far left: 1. Garden journal; 2. Salvaged boxes for storing seed supplies; 3. Seed starting pots mad of coir; 4. Seed starting pots made from biodegradable farm waste; 5. Peat pots; 6. Garden record book; 7. Gloves; 8. Plant labels (both wooden and plastic); 8. Seed sower; 9. Pencil used as a dibble to make small holes to plant seeds; 10. Scissors; 11. Chopstick dibble.








Potted (as in plants)

Connection with gardens, even small ones, even potted plants, can become windows to the inner life. The simple act of stopping and looking at the beauty around us can be prayer.                              -Patricia R. Barrett

We have a number of potted plants in and around our home. In the front yard, a lei plant (plumaria) sits outside the front entrance. Two rosemary plants pose like sentinels, each ensconced in large glazed pottery. Another very large glazed urn outside the kitchen window holds irises and crinums.

The back yard is filled with potted plants. Some are in nicely aged terra cotta, others in glazed urns and still others in black plastic nursery pots. The plants in nursery pots are those I have started from seed, cuttings or tubers. They include ginger (the kind you eat), milkweed (for the monarchs), mint, night-blooming jasmine, angel trumpets, and more, and are waiting until I can get them into the ground or in permanent pots. Many seeds I’ve collected will go into pots in the fall.

But you don’t need a yard to have container plants                                                                         Our inside plants include a small herb garden, some African violets my wife cares for and various other plants that need more tender care – all sitting on the kitchen windowsill. We’ve got pothos (you know that ivy thing that you see in just about every doctor’s office) in many rooms in our home.

Pothos, by the way, is the Greek word for “longing,” which was considered a divine power. In mythology, Pothos (the god of longing), his brothers Eros (love) and Himeros (desire) were the sons of Zephyr, the westerly wind.

Pothos (the plant, not the god) has a great reputation for scrubbing the air. Along with the peace lily, spider plant (also called airplane plant), and several other indoor plants,  , it can remove formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, toluene, xylene, ammonia, and carbon monoxide from the air.

What to use for pots                                                                                                                                   I get ill when I have to use euphemisms all the time. “Plant container” is a high sounding word for “pot,” which comes from  the Old English word “pott,” which means, unbelievably, “pot.” There are a lot of different types. Clay (terracotta), hypertufa, metal, molded plastic, glazed or unglazed pottery, stone, and simple recycled materials (old shoes, washtubs, wheel barrels, wagons, carts and toys are possible receptacles.   Imagination can work wonders. For pros and cons of different container types, see here.

Put the soil in the coconut                                                                                                                 Soil in planters tends to dry out and compact very fast, even indoors. Never, never, never use regular topsoil or even soil from the yard for your potted plants. Instead, mix a batch of good soil yourself. Mix  a third compost, a third perlite, and a third coconut coir into a wheelbarrow or tub. I used to recommend peat instead of coir, but peat moss is not a renewable resource. Coir, made from coconut fiber, is. Add some solid, slow-release organic fertilizer perhaps about a quart for a cubic foot of mixture.

Clean pots make good neighbors                                                                                                           Wash your pots, especially if they’ve been used before. Plant diseases, insect eggs and pathogens may exist in the pots. Use soap, warm water and a scrub brush. Rinse and let them dry – except for terra cotta. Terra cotta needs to be soaked throughout before planting anything it.

Ready to plant?                                                                                                                                           Fill the pot halfway with your new mixture. You may want to add a tablespoon of organic fertilizer to the top of the soil at this time. If you’re using a nursery-bought plant, remove it from its nursery pot. With a sharp knife, slice through the root ball from the top to bottom on four sides of the plant. This stimulates the roots to grow.

Put the plant into the pot, and fill in the spaces around it with your prepared mixture, until the soil reaches the base of the plant. Now, add more in, because when you water it, the moisture will compress to soil down.

Place your plant in a sunny window, water it well, and let it do its work.

Watering                                                                                                                                                 Your plant is going to need water. There are two ways to check that: a moisture meter, or the finger meter. Stick the moisture meter (available at any garden store) into the soil around the plant, and wait for the meter to register. I use the finger meter, which works like this: stick your finger into the soil. If it comes out dry, it’s time to water your plant. If not, it doesn’t need water yet.

Add a teaspoon of fertilizer about once a month. Scratch it into the surface of the potting soil, and water.


If you have any questions about potting plants, please address them to the address on this website.