by Kathie Hoyer – January 28, 2021

It’s time to gather your seeds, moisten your seed-starting mix, plug in your lights and timers and get the season going! Seed starting folks know that spring doesn’t actually begin with the vernal equinox but right here, right now, at the end of January! Last week I had a great time presenting my first virtual class in everything you need to know about seed-starting and our classic Seed-Starting Workshop Class is coming up next weekend.

No need to panic however – you still have lots of time to get your garden planned and planted! Your job right now is to get the earliest seeds going so that you’ll have flowers and vegetables this summer. If you are confused about what to start when, the Bowood Tip Sheet Vegetables by Season will help.

Growing flowers from seed is a little more complicated since there are so many variables. Reading the seed packet or catalog/website description will help you to place your flower seed-starting tasks into your edible seed-starting calendar. Seed companies that cater to small farm operations have great information on which flowers should be started inside as opposed to those that should be directly sown into the garden and the best timing for both – see the links provided below. They will also indicate certain seed treatments that are recommended to aid seeds to germinate successfully – more rapidly and with a higher percentage of viability. This can be a bit confusing, so I’ve put together a summary you can reference as you choose flower seeds and get started on your seed-grown flower garden.

Seed Treatments to Aid Germination

  • Soaking: Place seeds in warm (≈85°) water for 1-3 hours and then plant immediately. Longer soaking times are often detrimental because seeds need air to live. I also recommend adding 3% hydrogen peroxide at the rate of 1½ tsp per cup or 2 Tbsp per quart. I always soak the bigger seeds as well as chard, beets, brassicas, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers. You wouldn’t do this with the tiny seeds like onions and carrots, or for seeds that germinate quickly, such as lettuce. radishes and zinnias. Corn, peas, beans, cucumbers, melons and squash seeds can be soaked for about 15 minutes, just before sowing outside.
  • Stratification by Pre-chilling Inside: Sow seeds in moist seed-starting mix and then put the pot or 6pk inside a large ziploc plastic bag, seal it and keep at about 60° for two to three days. Then place in the refrigerator for six weeks. When the six weeks are up, take it out of the ziploc and move it to a warm place. Provide strong light as soon as seedlings appear. This is how we reliable start Asclepias seeds (milkweed).
  • Stratification by Pre-chilling in Pots Outside: After planting the seeds, bury the pots to their rims which will insulate them from severe cold and prevent them from tipping over. When the seeds germinate in the spring, move the pots to a sheltered area until they are big enough to transplant. A variation of this is to Winter Sow in recycled containers – a very simple technique that is covered in our Bowood tip sheet and Studio class of the same name.
  • Stratification by Pre-Chilling when Direct Sown: Broadcast the seeds on bare ground (NO vegetation). This is often done with native wildflowers and is best done from November to January to provide enough cold to prompt germination. Sweet Peas, Bachelor’s Buttons, Poppies and Love-in-a-Mist are also commonly sown this way, but in February.
  • Scarification or Nicking: This is a technique to remove a tiny section of the seed-coat by nicking or chipping so that moisture can reach the seed’s embryo. Usually a sharp knife or file or sandpaper is recommended but I’ve found that the easiest tool is actually a nail-clippers! The best place to nick the seed is opposite the hilum which is the point where the seedpod was attached. It usually looks like an oval-shaped dip or darkened spot. Some flower seeds have a small bump, like the pin of a grenade. Be sure to cut only the seed coat as a deeper cut may harm the seed’s growing tissues. Scarify just before planting – they can dry out if you wait too long.

A short video clip: showing the hilum of some bean seeds for your information, then using nail clippers to scarify a Moonflower seed and a Four O’Clock seed.

A Few Seed Companies that Provide Helpful Information

Fedco Seeds https://www.fedcoseeds.com/seeds/flower-seeds Most flower seeds offered are open-pollinated
Johnny’s Selected Seeds https://www.johnnyseeds.com/flowers/ Look for “Growing Information” below each seed description
Prairie Moon Nursery https://www.prairiemoon.com/ Native flowers with very specific information about germination seed treatments and the option for searching by necessary treatments
Territorial Seed Company https://territorialseed.com/pages/flowers-herbs Germination codes listed at the end of each seed description