Sprout, Dang It! When Seeds Forget to Read Instructions

There will be times you’ll wish that seeds would just get on with it and sprout, dang it!

Sprout, dang it!

Sprout, dang it!

You’ll start to crave the sight of green, the delicate hesitant shoots of a seedling peeping out of a peat pot’s soil.

You’ll begin swearing at the fine print on seed packets. “But the package says ‘Seeds will germinate in 1 to 3 weeks’ – it’s been TWENTY-TWO DAYS!”

You’ll be tempted to call up the seed company and point out the misleading “Guaranteed to Grow” stamp on the back: “But you PROMISED!!”

Best Lesson: Nobody told the seeds when to sprout

99% of the time, the expectations that need to be adjusted are our own, not those of the seed.

Seeds are very poor readers. Sure, the package says one to three weeks. But the seed is on the INSIDE of the package, where no instructions are printed.

Seeds don’t sprout overnight (in most cases). If the package says one to three weeks, don’t fret when nothing happens in one to three days.

Seeds don’t sprout just anywhere (in most cases). Does that particular seed crave 99% humidity and deep shade? Do you live in a suburb of Las Vegas? Maybe it’s safer to gamble on something else sprouting, like sagebrush or salt cedar.

Seeds don’t sprout under every condition (in almost all cases). It’s critical to know your hardiness zone – and know what hardiness zones are about.

Sometimes seeds don’t sprout, period. That’s what happened in my ventures with cardboard palms and eucalyptus seed. After over a year of waiting, I had to just admit that basking in the shade of my very own cardboard palm wasn’t in my future (and not just because the pictures that I found of cardboard palms show them growing very low to the ground).

Next Best Lesson: Ask for help – wisely and armed to the teeth

Ginger and basil working together with astonishing results

Ginger and basil working together with astonishing results

I will keep repeating this until you are muttering it in your sleep: Know Your Hardiness Zone.

When asked for help, most people are going to lead with “Where do you live?” — that determines what advice they give you or where they point you for more information. If you live in Miami, the advice will be different from what you’ll receive if you live in Seattle or Bangor, Maine.

When something fails to happen according to my own imperfect expectations, sometimes I call my friendly Master Gardener and sob on her shoulder. She’ll sympathize and not laugh too loud, remind me that we live in a hot dry desert in temperatures akin to the surface of the sun (see above regarding Know Your Hardiness Zone),

… then she’ll cheer me up by pointing out that hardly anyone living on the surface of the sun gets XYZ to sprout without first soaking the seeds in hot magma at 40,000 degrees Fahrenheit and dedicating the burnt seed packet to Aphidistracia, pagan goddess of annoying insects that chirp and eat concrete.

(Sorry, Mia. I know you wouldn’t use those exact words!)

… then I point out that, even though it’s 127F outside, I garden indoors mainly because we live in a hot dry desert in temperatures that make the surface of the sun jealous.

I hop on the Internet and search for “how to get eucalyptus seeds to germinate without moving to Melbourne for the winter.” Sometimes the results are amazingly informative. Sometimes, though, I have to remind myself that not everything on the Internet is gospel or even anywhere near true, and that soaking seeds in hot magma at 40,000 degrees Fahrenheit is total fiction. Please don’t try this at home or on the surface of your nearby sun.

I visit two of the behemoths of gardening lore: Wikipedia and Dave’s Garden. Dave’s Garden is a lot easier to navigate than when I first visited a few years ago. Both are packed full of advice and knowledgeable people. Check out the Dave’s Garden Community, and dive in.

Next Best Lesson: Fail gracefully and go plant something else.

Sometimes the best lesson is the one learned by knowing when to go do something else. If that eucalyptus seed is not sprouting in your garden in Juneau in March, there’s probably a pretty good reason. (Hint: see above advice – Know Your Hardiness Zone)

I’ve got no problem at all admitting that something just ain’t gonna. If nothing happens after I’ve followed the instructions to the letter, I don’t mind ditching the whole project into the drum compost bin and trying something else.

I keep my failures —or at least photographic evidence— to remind me what works and what didn’t. It helps keep the successes in perspective.

Failure only happens if you try. When you’re facing a failure, remember that it’s a sure sign that you’re trying!

To your garden success!
Casey – the Garden Lass

Big Box Store: Donate Extra Seeds to Schools

all my leftover seeds

I am glad to donate my leftover seeds. Who wants them?

Today I stopped by a local big-box-national-brand store, hoping to find tomatillos in the great big seed display I saw last month.

Not only did they have no tomatillo seeds but they have barely any seeds at all! (Lots of flower seeds, but I’m not ready to grow flowers.) Thinking they moved the display to a sunnier spot, I tracked down a floor manager, who shook her head sadly.

“Unless they’re there, they’ve gone back.”  Gone back? To..?

Turns out that retailers return seeds to their vendors on a certain timetable in order to get credit for them if they’re not sold. I suppose that makes sense.

But instead of returning them, why not donate them? What’s the worst thing that’d happen if this massive national chain gave its nearly out of code seeds to the community or schools or parks, with no guarantee except that of best wishes.

Maybe a kid gets curious about growing a garden. Maybe a family gets a healthy meal from a community veggie plot. Maybe it makes the difference between eating veggies or not eating at all. That’s a choice some families are making these days.


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.