Mar 28th, 2020

Starting Seeds: Use What You Have

vegetable garden seedsWith the COVID-19 pandemic making social distancing now the norm, many of you probably have some time on your hands. Bet you’re a garden lover too! Let’s make the most of it by starting seeds for a flower and vegetable garden.  Not only will this put you in a better frame of mind because gardening is proven to improve mood, but you’ll also have beautiful flowers to enjoy and fresh vegetables will mean fewer trips to the grocery store too. If you are really successful you’ll have plenty to share with your friends and neighbors as well.

Use what you have

It’s probably not worth it to go to the store for new gardening supplies. We’ll show you how to use what you have so you don’t have to make another trip out.

Look to see if you have some old seeds leftover from last year.  If you do, that’s great! If you have seeds at home keep in mind that the viability of the seeds depends on what type they are, how long you’ve had them and how they have been stored. But if you have seeds that are less than 3 years old, at least some of them should be viable.

You could also use avocado seeds, citrus seeds, seeds from dates. You could try anything you happen to have — peppers, squash, beans or maybe even pineapple!

Mail ordering seeds is another option. We asked our horticulturist some of their favorite seed sources and here are a few of our favorites: Johnny’s Select Seeds, White Flower Farm, Peace Tree Farm and Prairie Moon Nursery. You might even have a really fun time exploring the Seed Saver Exchange.

While it is good to have a bag of seed starter soil mix, it is not absolutely necessary. This type of purchased soil is good because it is sterile (no weeds, diseases or fungi, which makes it easier to start seeds.) But you can use soil from your own yard. It just needs to be light, well-drained, and have plenty of organic matter. If you have a compost bin or compost pile, homemade compost would be a great choice. If you have a bag of peat moss laying around even better! If you are using soil from your yard and you don’t have compost, try mixing in leaf mold (composted or finely shredded leaves).

starting seeds indoors, Image by Amanda Parker.

Starting seeds indoors. Image by Amanda Parker

If you are using soil from your yard could even sterilize the soil yourself in your oven  (although you may want to think twice about this since it can sometimes leave strange,  sweet/funky smell that can linger.)

If you are using seed packets, the back of the envelope will tell you appropriate times to sow and conditions needed for plants. If you are don’t have instructions on a seed packet, the Piedmont MasterGardeners offer a helpful chart with germination times and ideal germination temperatures. Once planted, keep your seeds evenly moist, and give them plenty of light  (1/2 day or more of sunshine). When they start to grow and have an established root system you can first harden them off (by giving them a few hours outdoors each day, gradually getting them used to the outdoors) and then plant them in your garden after the risk of frost is over. (In Central Virginia, this is typically after April 15.)

If you have questions we’d be happy to help! You can write your questions in the comments or email us at [email protected] to reach our Hort Helpline.  Also, whether you are new to gardening or an old hand, it’s fun to connect with other gardeners. You’ll find a vibrant gardening community of over us at our Gardening in Virginia — Questions & Answers Group. We’d love you to join the conversation.

Happy gardening!

Jonah Holland is Digital Content Manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where she has worked for 14 years overseeing social media, the blog, and the website. She is also a mom, yogi, open water swimmer, gardener, and seeker. She's been known to go for a walk in the Garden and come back with hundreds of plant photos, completely inspired to write her next blog post.

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