A Guide to Seed Selection: Tips, Tricks and Helpful Products
With Spring just a mere six weeks away, it’s literally getting easier to look on the bright side. With the sun setting later and later each day its beginning to look a lot like growing season once again. While the winter months can be a drag for garden lovers, experienced growers know that winter time is one of the most important times of the year, as it allows you to plan out next year’s garden. For many, seed selection begins as soon as the last crop has been harvested, and for some, seed selection never stops!
Selecting and starting seeds is one of the most enjoyable aspects of horticulture. However, with so much to consider, from choosing which seeds to grow and panning the layout of your garden to ensuring that your young crop is healthy during its most vulnerable state, one can easily become overwhelmed. With so much information on seed selection and proper seed starting, we wanted to share some helpful tips, tricks and products that can help make this year’s garden one of your best yet.
Before selecting any new seeds, you must first take into consideration the natural factors that will have an influence on your decision. For those growing within a controlled environment, such as a greenhouse or high tunnel, you can counteract many of the environmental limitations and produce nearly any crop desired. However, for those looking to produce crops outdoors, factors, such as hardiness zone, the overall length of the growing season and whether or not the seasons change gradually or rapidly, will affect which crops you are able to produce. Before deciding on seeds of any type, you must first know your hardiness zone. The hardiness zones indicate the relationship between temperature patterns of geographic areas and a plant’s ability to survive there. For example, if a plant is able to withstand very cold temperatures, it will be rated for zone 1a, while crops that will not survive at temperatures below 65 degrees Fahrenheit are rated for zone 13b. Understanding your hardiness zone is an important first step, because if you live in a hardiness zone of 4b, seeds intended for a hardiness zone of 10a will not be able to survive. If you do not already know your hardiness zone, you can find it by searching your zip code on www.plantmaps.com.
After finding your hardiness zone, you will next want to create your seed wish list based on what crops are capable of thriving in your location. By no means should you hold back at this point, write up a list of every crop that you would like to have, which will be reduced down to a finalized list later.
With your dream seeds selected, you will now want to map out exactly what your garden will look like. This will be one of the first steps in reducing your list of seed choices. Map out your garden by drawing exactly where each crop will be placed. During this time, take into consideration things such as early and late blooming crops, plant spacing, the size of the crop at full bloom, walking paths, working areas or entry ways (if required) and so on. If you will be working with a vegetable garden, plan some flowers throughout the area as well. Flowers encourage pollination from bees, and the added bee activity will benefit your vegetables in the long run. By planning the complete layout of your garden beforehand, you will discover which crops you have room for and which ones simply will not fit. Plan your garden to contain the crops you do wish to grow, but eliminate any crops that require too much space early on.
Once you have decided upon the crops that you will be producing, it is now time to purchase your seeds. Seeds can be bought in a number of ways, but for best results, try to purchase your seeds from a reputable dealer. One of our personal favorites is Johnny’s Selected Seeds, as they have thousands of seeds to select from, including Heirloom and Organic varieties. Once your seeds have arrived, carefully inspect them before starting them. All seeds are different, and even the most reputable seed supplier will provide you with some seeds that are not going to produce as well. Seeds that appear smaller, shriveled or cracked should be removed from the packet and discarded. These types of seeds are unable to provide the proper nutrition for seedling growth and can be removed to leave room for planting healthier seeds.
Purchasing seeds each year is not required. Perennials will of course re-bloom each season, but a garden full of perennials is not the only way to avoid purchasing new seed year after year. One way to produce a magnificent garden each year is by slowly eliminating any less-than-ideal crops and replacing them next season with the seed from a highly desirable one. After all seeds have been established and transplanted outdoors, you will begin to notice seeds that are growing to their maximum potential and seeds that are not. With any crop, some seeds will thrive while others do not, and a picture perfect garden can be built overtime by harvesting and using the seeds from flourishing plants.
Much like the genetic traits of humans, plants pass on their nutritional prowess to their seeds. Therefore, a healthy and thriving crop will produce seeds that will grow in the same manner. As your plants begin to grow, identify the ones that appear to be the best by marking them with a garden stake or string. At a young age, this may include a number of crops, so monitor those crops throughout their life cycle and remove markers from any that lose their appeal over time. As the season comes to a close, harvest the seeds of only the best looking crops. Once harvested, dry and clean the seeds. After the seeds are completely dry, place them in a container filled with paper towel, peat moss or sand, all of which are intended to prevent issues with moisture. You can place your seeds in a glass or plastic jar or something as simple as a plastic bag. Be sure to label your seeds in case they are stored for more than a few months. Write down the name of the crop and the date it was harvested, including the month and year, to prevent the possibility of planting seeds that are too old to grow properly.
Helping the Process
Starting roughly in February and extending into early March, seeds both new and old should be started indoors. After your garden has been designed and the desired seeds have been purchased, you will want to start the seeds indoors, so that they are established enough to survive when planted outside. We carry a wide selection of supplies for young seedlings, including Horticulture Coarse Perlite, Jiffy-7C Coir Pellets and Fertilpot Pots. However, for seed starting, our Heated Germination Station and Seedling Heat Mats make seed starting faster and easier than ever.
Our Heated Germination Station is a plug-in heating system that provides constant, even heat to seeds and seedlings. This complete system contains a humidity dome that locks in heat and moisture, providing seedlings with an ideal growing environment for a faster, healthier start.
Our Seedling Heat Mats are simple, plug-in mats that warm the rooting area to improve the success rates of young seedlings. These are ideal for stimulating growth in clippings or developing the root systems of seedlings for a longer period of time. Implementing this or any of our other seed starting supplies will help get your garden thriving this year.
If you haven’t put much thought into this year’s garden just yet, it’s never too late to start planning. This year, take some time to plan ahead and start your seeds early; you will be rewarded in the end with improved crop quality and yield. If you have any questions about seed starting, selecting or storing, please let us know by leaving a comment below.