Wild Things…
Wild Garden Plants from Seed
By Karen Vizzi
     Starting plants from seed is one of the most rewarding tasks the garden has to offer and is also the most economical way to have the greatest variety of plants. 
     Starting plants from seed is especially desirable for the wild garden because many of the ornamental plants available in retail garden centers do not necessarily have the best habitat qualities. For example, geraniums and roses are pretty to look at but are almost useless if you are trying to attract butterflies.  Azaleas and rhododendrons are also beautiful, but provide no seeds and berries for migrating birds in the fall.  Growing plants yourself enables you to have precisely the right plants for attracting the widest variety of critters to your wild garden. 
     The first step is to make a schedule. Seeds germinate and mature on very different time schedules, depending on the plant. So you’ll want to schedule the initial sowing based on the date they can actually be transplanted into the garden. On the back of most seed packets, you will find instructions that say something like “start indoors 4 – 6 weeks prior to last frost date”. The last frost date is the approximate date when temperatures moderate and we can be reasonably sure that there will be no more frost or freezing conditions. In our area, the date is somewhere between May 10th and May 15th. However, we know better than anybody that the weather doesn’t always do what it’s supposed to, so when it eventually comes time for transplanting, we need to faithfully watch the weather forecast. 
     Erring on the side of caution, I count backwards 4 – 6 weeks from May 15th, and that is the time I start those particular seeds. No matter how anxious, I stick to my schedule. Success depends on timing the growth of each plant to be mature enough to survive transplanting into the garden, but not so mature that they start to languish and outgrow their indoor homes.
    In general, perennial flowers and herbs will have the longest start-up times and are usually in the 10 – 12 week category. Annual flowers and some vegetables will range anywhere from 4 – 8 weeks and heat-loving plants like tomatoes, peppers, zinnias and morning glories generally fall into the 2 – 4 week timeframe. Be patient! If you start seeds too early you will end up with root bound or leggy seedlings. These unhealthy plants do not transplant well, and will never thrive in the garden. 
     Different plants have different germination requirements, so ALWAYS follow the planting instructions on the packet. They will guide you in the four critical steps for proper seedling culture: warmth for germination, light, adequate moisture and fresh air.
     There are also several plants whose instructions recommend direct sowing in the garden. This is often recommended  “after the ground has warmed and after all danger of frost has passed”. Unfortunately for us, this means the first week in JUNE. It can be difficult to wait, especially if we have warm temperatures and good weather in May. But the ground takes longer to warm up than the air. Seed sown before the soil has completely warmed will not germinate, no matter how warm the air is. Other times, direct sowing is recommended because that particular plant resents root disturbance and does not transplant well. Butterfly favorite cosmos, for example, tend to do much better when directly seeded. They will grow well indoors, but once moved into the garden tend to fall behind other plants that were seeded directly.Starting plants from seed is one of the most rewarding tasks the garden has to offer and is also the most economical way to have the greatest variety of plants. 

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