Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Seeds vs Seedlings

Most of our plants began life as a tiny seed, and this particularly true when it comes to flowering annuals and vegetables. Today there is the option of growing plants directly from seed or buying ready-grown seedlings. There are advantages and disadvantages of both.

Seeds vary in size from large ones like avocado and some beans, to the very minute seeds of lettuces and pansies. Small seeds must be placed on the surface of the seed-raising mix because if they are covered too thickly they will not germinate. Other seeds like sweet corn are planted at twice the depth of the thickness of the seed itself, and that is the basic rule to follow with all seeds.

When buying seed-raising mix make sure that it has been especially formulated for the purpose, with not too much air-filled porosity and the correct level of moisture-holding capacity. The surface should be levelled and firmed with a flat piece of wood or similar object, in preparation for sowing.

Seeds can be planted directly in the garden bed, or in seed-raising mix to plant the seedlings in the garden at a later time. If a small amount of Epsom salts is added to water, when applied to the soil the magnesium in it will help the plant to activate the enzymes that breaks down the food supply in the seed. A light misting is adequate. Too much water will rot the seeds. A covering of perlite will absorb moisture as well as provide an insulating layer and aid in germination.

There are several options when planting seeds in the ground. Some seed companies are supplying a length of tape that is impregnated with seed such as radish that is evenly spaced. The tape is laid out in a straight line as a row, and the seeds will germinate at regular intervals.

Many gardeners are also interested in heirloom and heritage seeds. Some are available from nurseries and garden centres supply a variety of these, but to get open pollinated varieties you may need to contact an organic growers group to get home-saved seed, or contact a seed savers network.

If you grow a lot of F1 hybrids, the chances are that the seeds will not be viable, so new seeds will have to be purchased otherwise seedlings can be used. Although seedlings cost a little bit more they save a lot of time. It generally takes 10 to 14 days for seedlings to germinate and come through the ground, and then another 2 to 3 weeks for them to develop some size as young plants. The germination rate of parsley is so poor that it is better to leave it to someone else’s propagating skills. Begonias also have a poor germination rate as well as the seeds being very expensive.

When buying seedlings, you are often confronted with a choice of very small plants or tall, leggy ones. The temptation is to buy the big ones thinking that they will be better, but this is not the case. The small seedlings will easily outgrow the larger ones, as well as being much stronger plants.

When planting seedlings into the garden care must be taken not to crush the stems, as this is the route of transportation of nutrients to the plant. Hold the plants by the leaves and ease them out so that you don’t damage the root system. After planting them in the ground, water them in with a seaweed extract, because the vitamin B1 will help the seedlings overcome transplant shock.

Seeds are cheaper but seedlings are quicker, so it is just a matter of personal choice.

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