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growing plants from seed

ALABAMA A&M UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Spring is an ideal time for individuals to let their green thumb show. If gardeners choose to start their garden with seeds, there are a few things they need to keep in mind.

Choosing Seeds

Allyson Shabel, an Alabama Extension urban home grounds, gardens and pests regional agent said the first thing gardeners have to do is decide would they would like to grow.

“The most popular annuals to start from seed are vegetables,” Shabel said.

In addition to vegetables, there are several popular flowering annuals that can be started from seed. Cosmos, marigolds and zinnias are some of the easiest to grow. Other annuals that are relatively easy include:

  • coleus
  • salvia
  • vinca
  • portulaca (moss rose)

Shabel said if growers are looking for a bit of a challenge, they could consider growing begonias, calibrachoa, pansies and petunias.

Starting seeds is not always guaranteed to work. To ensure success, gardeners should follow the instructions on the seed packet. It is also helpful to begin with fresh seed, which is also found on the packet. The older the seed, the less likely it is it will germinate.

“If the seed is more than two years old, throw it away and use fresh seed,” she said.

Growing Annuals

Generally, the directions for growing each specific type of seed can be found on the back of the package they come in. These directions lets growers know important information such as the best time to plant and how deep to sow the seeds.

According to Shabel, seeds should be started in a special mix composed of fine peat moss, pearlite and vermiculite. Seed trays can then be placed in a sunny spot or underneath a grow light.

“Seedlings should be watered often and thoroughly,” Shabel said. “They have small root systems, so drying out can be a problem for them. In seedlings that desperately need water, the top of the soil will begin to change colors from dark brown to a lighter brown.”

Seeds will generally begin to germinate in two to three weeks. Once seedlings begin to feature two or three sets of leaves, they can be fertilized. Once a week, gardeners should use a half-strength general purpose liquid fertilizer to maximize the seedlings’ growth potential.

When seedlings are ready to move outdoors, gardeners must begin the process slowly. Putting them outdoors in full shade for four to five days will allow them to acclimate to the outdoors without burning. After that time period, over another four to five days, they can be moved into increasingly higher light conditions.

More Information

For more information, read the Alabama Extension publication Growing Annual Plants from Seeds. For further information on starting seeds or other gardening information, visit www.aces.edu or contact your county Extension office.

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