9 tips to help your seeds turn into real plants

cardboard palms line up in a window planter box to hatch

Cardboard palms, one per pot, line up to hatch

Even the most experienced gardener can still get a thrill when a seed germinates. Since I’m new to gardening and very easily awestruck, I’m jazzed every time something sprouts or sends up shoots or shows the least bit of green.

I’ve also dug up some solid advice that’ll help improve the odds of that seed turning into a plant.

  1. Plant seeds at the proper depth. No instructions? Google the plant name plus “seed+germination” and see what depth is recommended. No luck with the search engines? A good rule of thumb is bury to the seed’s diameter. But that isn’t true for everything – some seeds actually need light to germinate! Grab a seed planting guide to make sure.
  2. If your garden soil is heavy, cover with potting soil. A clay-filled soil will not encourage germination as well as a properly prepared seeding mix or potting soil. For indoor seed starting, use seeding mix.
  3. Start your seed in the temperature that will encourage it the most. Cool weather plants need a lower temperature than warm weather plants and crops. Read the seed’s instructions for light and heat.
  4. Controlled moisture is far better than standing water. Read the seed’s instructions for the amount of moisture it will find ideal. Many will want you to check for moisture at specific depths.
  5. Test your soil pH before planting. A soil’s acidity or alkalinity can change dramatically over time. Be sure to test before each season’s planting.
  6. Raise your soil temperature to speed sprouting. If you’re not getting a good encouraging soil temperature, cover the ground with a black plastic sheet or mulch. Be sure to remove this at the first sign of sprout!
  7. Soak or nick your seeds. Sometimes seeds need help in breaking through the protective outer shell. Soaking softens this natural shell, and nicking can give just enough of an opening for moisture to enter.
  8. Start like-minded seeds in the same area. Do several of your newly seeded future plants want bright light and high humidity? Keep them together in your growing area, but place the ones that will become the tallest in the back.
  9. Grab a germination mat or sheet for indoor planting. A germination mat helps growth medium reach and keep the temperature and moisture level the seeds need in order to germinate.

Bottom Line: Knowing a few basic precautions – and taking a few minutes to research what your seed wants – can go a long way toward assuring your seeding -and seedling- success.

Preparations for a plentiful patch of palm

cardboard palm tree seeds being prepared in cold tap water

Cardboard palm tree seeds being prepared in cold tap water

Many thanks to Sherry Venegas for introducing me to this graceful tree, the cardboard palm. While we were busy debating the identity of Vote The Tree, she brought this to my attention. So I raced off to Amazon to see what was available, and came back with this. Well, not literally. The seeds arrived in this afternoon’s mail, about three days before I expected them to. Good job on ya, Hirt Gardens. And a hearty high-five to Sherry!

Still leery from my experience with the tamarind and the trek it took to identify it once it had sprouted, this time around I’m taking double – nay, Triple – precautions. I have my carefully hand-lettered pot signs. Well, ok, they’re not signs. They’re strips of painter tape that I know full well will pull loose and end up on the floor within a few days. So I’m also hand-lettering some cardboard strips to mark my cardboard palms.

Also still leery from my experience or lack thereof with the staghorn sumac, this time I’m not only reading the directions that come with the seeds, but also doing a fair bit of research online. In my typical belt-and-suspenders-and-trench-coat-and-five-suitcases approach, I seem to have ordered about ten times the number of seeds I’ll need. I thought I was getting three; I got 30.

So I’m taking advantage of an apparent lack of reading skill on my part, and soaking three seeds in each of two ways before planting them tomorrow morning. Three in a hot tap water soak, and three in a cold water soak.

I figure this way I’m prepared for anything, and when one of the six seedlings pokes its head above potting soil, it will be well marked, labeled, prepared and documented – and it won’t be a tamarind.

Cardboard palm trees seeds being prepared in hot tap water

Cardboard palm trees seeds being prepared in hot tap water