Seed germination: a good start for spring – L’Observateur


Has winter finally arrived? Well maybe, at least for a few cold days and freezing nights, which makes this the perfect time to review the litany of seed and gardening catalogs that have accumulated over the past few weeks. Seed catalogs are full of detailed and useful information for gardeners, and reviewing them provides an opportunity to learn about new plant seed varieties available and determine if they are suitable for our gardens. Perhaps you are looking for open-pollinated varieties of heirloom seeds or perhaps hardier hybrid seeds? One of my all-time favorite seed catalogs is Totally Tomatoes. This catalog also contains peppers and other varieties of vegetable seeds, but focuses on tomato growers. They have literally hundreds of tomato varieties ranging from heirlooms to amazing new hybrids, many of which will do well in our growing environment. Once seed selections are determined, place your order quickly. Seed quantities are limited and seed vendors sell out quickly, but it takes time to start the germination process for spring planting. The sooner the better – having seeds on hand now will give you plenty of time to grow the seedlings and prepare them for transplanting.

The Farmer’s Almanac says the last frost date for our area is March 10th. Weather conditions change, becoming less predictable, so late February through late March is the window of last opportunity for frost. If you want to start early for spring planting, some gardeners start the seeds indoors, in a cold frame or in a greenhouse. Starting plants from seed is also economical because the plants are more expensive to purchase.

If you are new to gardening or have never germinated seeds before, you will find this information useful for starting seeds indoors. When the outside temperatures begin to warm and stabilize, you can plant your seedlings in your garden.

Certain types of small pots are necessary for the germination of seedlings. Recycling old garden pots is always a good idea and a cost saver. Before using old garden pots, be sure to thoroughly clean the pots using a mild bleach solution: one part bleach to nine parts water or by using a cleaning product that kills germs and bacteria. Of course, this is after removing the remaining waste soil from old garden pots. If small garden pots are not available, substitute egg cartons (paper cartons are best), small cups, or toilet roll and paper towel tubes. Seedling trays or peat pots can also be purchased at a local garden center.

Use a soil mix specifically designed to start seeds as the soil mix should be very light, with the ability to retain moisture while allowing air to seep into the soil. To make your own seed starter mix at home, sift together equal parts peat and vermiculite. Once sifted together, slowly add water to the soil and mix. Keep adding water to the soil mixture until squeezing a handful of soil forms a ball. You shouldn’t be able to squeeze the water out of the dirt ball.

Now the sterilized containers can be filled either with the purchased seed soil or with the homemade soil. Fill each container then lightly tap the container to ensure each container is properly filled with no air pockets. The pots are ready for planting the seeds.

Many seed packages provide instructions to cover the seeds with at least ¼ inch of soil. Often, by following these instructions, the seeds will not germinate properly or if they do, only a few seeds will have germinated. It is very possible and probable that your seeds were not covered with soil. Most seeds need light to germinate, so covering them with soil stops germination. There are also many seeds that require darkness for germination.

The right amount of light or dark affects the germination of various seeds. Also, most need a minimum temperature of 60-70℉ to germinate. This means that to germinate seeds indoors, look for a warm place, such as the top of your fridge or freezer, as these will provide bottom heat for the seed containers. You may also consider purchasing a heat mat designed for seedlings to provide the bottom heat necessary for seed germination. Many heated mats cost around $20, but mats with added features like thermostats offer more precise temperature control, but usually at extra cost. Always be sure to keep the soil moist during germination by watering the containers from below.

Check out the for Orange County Master Gardeners’ list of some common vegetable and flower seeds with respective light and temperature requirements. If you are looking for a particular vegetable or flower not included below or need a more comprehensive list, visit the Orange County Texas Master Gardeners website – orange/seed-chart-veggies/

John Green is a Certified Master Gardener. Orange County Master Gardeners can be contacted at, via the Orange County Texas Master Gardeners Association Facebook page, by calling the helpline at 409-882-7010 or by email at


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