Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Many Different Ways I'm Starting Seeds This Year

I'm using several different methods to start my seeds this year. I am a seed-starting maniac!

I already posted once this year about the seeds I'm starting right in place in the new beds, with cloches over them. You can read about them here. I bought the cloches on Amazon here. And in the past I've also repurposed the bottoms of berry containers, as well as milk jugs with the bottoms cut off. Look here for a post that shows foxglove seedlings under a berry container cloche. The cloches, which have three small holes in the rim, are held to the ground with earth staples (great big metal staples). Not sure what earth staples are? Amazon sells them here. The cloches are great because they warm the soil just a little, have a couple of holes in the top to let in air and a tiny bit of rain, but also protect the seeds and seedlings from the torrential rain we've been having and keep them from getting washed away all over the yard.

At the moment underneath the cloches I have sown Echinacea purpurea, Eryngium 'Big Blue' and Hungarian blue poppies (an annual) -- all seeds I saved from my own garden.

The poppies have already popped!

Poppy seedlings. The top half has Eryngium seeds, which haven't sprouted yet.

I have a bunch of seed-starting trays with heat mats, and I'm using them too for seed-starting (more about that in a minute). I'm planning to use the plastic see-through lids that came with those heat mats as cloches in a similar fashion, to start more seeds directly in the beds.

Plastic lids waiting to be used as cloches

A second way I'm starting seeds this year is in the greenhouse, on top of heating mats. I'm using this method to start my vegetables, like tomatoes and peppers, that like warm soil and plenty of sunlight. I'm also starting a boatload of Dahlias on the heat mats too.

Many of the Dahlias have sprouted already, which I'm really excited about. Dahlias in my garden have never needed to be dug and stored over the winter, I just leave them in the beds and they have come back reliably every year. This year I'm going to fill my front bed with entire swaths of them. They'll fit right into my tropical theme, after all, they are tropical perennials from central America. (They need really good drainage, though.)

Walla Walla Onions sprouting -- See the tiny white radicle?

Lettuce and Spinach sprouts

With all the plants I'm overwintering in the greenhouse, I don't have room to start all the seeds I want (I'm starting a lot, seeds are such a cheap way to get a lot of plants). In the past, before we got the greenhouse, I've used portable plastic greenhouses to start seeds, and I'm using them again this year (my third seed-starting method).

Full of seeds in 4-inch pots

I use plastic Sterilite or Rubbermaid tubs (they come with lids but I don't use the lids) to hold 24 4-inch pots.

And fourth -- I'm starting seeds in the hoophouse that I've used to cover a portion of my raised veggie beds.

Some Mesa Peach Gaillardia seedlings in the hoophouse

Last year I used heat mats in the hoophouse to start some seeds that liked their soil a bit warm, a method that worked really well, so I'm going to do that again this year too.

Nothing in the bins yet -- I'm waiting on a seed order

I start just about all of my seeds in four-inch pots. I don't bother to clean them. I know a lot of people say to wash and sterilize your seed-starting pots in a bleach solution. Maybe I'm just lazy, but I don't bother with that step, and I've never had a problem. And I re-use potting soil for seed-starting as well, not special seed-starting mix. This year I'm re-using the soil from the big black pots that held my squash plants last year.

Former home of a squash plant
Five little four-inch newly sown pots

I have just enough space cleared on the table in the greenhouse for sowing seeds. Everything gets sown here, and then moved to wherever -- portable greenhouse, hoophouse, etc.

For labels I use cut-up yogurt and cream cheese containers.

I write on them with a paint pen

Seed-starting supplies -- after being sown, every pot gets spritzed with water to make sure the seeds are making good contact with the soil

A bin full of hope

I really am a seed-starting maniac. Not all of them will sprout, but in my experience enough will, and I'll transplant them right into the beds when they're still quite small. The sooner they get into the soil, the better (although to be honest, I have successfully overwintered first-year seedlings that never made it into the garden).

Do you sow seeds?


  1. You've been very productive Alison, it'll be interesting to see how the seedlings fare with the different methods. Not a seed starting person mainly due to lack of time but if that was in a more abundant supply then can get into it as it's also quite fun to see plants grow from seeds.

  2. Yowsa, you've sewn a lot of seeds! (any wild oats?) Looks like a lot of fun. I used to start seeds on windowsills or under a grow light in Alaska but here, everything gets direct sown. My windows are filled with overwintering plants and pots of tuberous begonias. Well, pots of soil with begonia tubers in them.

  3. Wow! I love that you called that "a bin full of hope"; what a perfect way to describe it! Excellent shots of your methods, wonderful information.
    One year I removed extra slats out of mini-blinds and I used those as my plant name tags.

  4. You've been busy, and it looks as though you'll be busier once you start transplanting! I envy you your new planting areas: I have so few places to put new plants that the only seeds I usually start are for my annual basil crop. I look forward to seeing your dahlia spread this summer!

  5. You are really putting the new greenhouse to good use. My seed starting is quite a bit more haphazard, but I find it more successful than direct sowing and there are a surprising number of unusual annuals that never show up in nurseries as plants. I like to use them as fillers in areas where I've tried to space the permanent plantings for future growth.

  6. Wow Alison!
    Taking on a new garden, I sow lots of seeds. It's the most cost effective way of filling up space. I never wash the pots out either!

  7. So many seeds, I envy you. When I started this garden 25 years ago I did the same, everywhere pots with seedlings, I loved it. Through the time my garden has grown full with trees, shrubs and perennials. Nevertheless, every year I sow a variety of seeds and yes I have in my greenhouse lots of potted dahlias too. But when I see it, I think where on earth can I put it in the garden, there will be many give aways. But it is just fun!

  8. You're way ahead of me! I've only got one tray full . as I've only one heat mat. I'll have to do them in batches. Most of them bloom late summer ,so I should be ok !

  9. Wow, your seed starting is impressive. Tom is our greenhouse seed starting nurseryman. He sows thickly and then transplants into four inch pots later.

  10. It all looks so professional: labels and cloches and trays and pots. I think I like watching other people plant better than actually planting seeds. I got my packets out and lined them up in rows. That's a start.

  11. Oh golly you have been busy! It is a hive of activity over at your place. I look forward to seeing all the new plants.

  12. Wow, Alison - that is impressive! I have some really interesting Asclepia physocarpa seeds that I'd like to try, but not sure when I'll have time. Also, per Ann's advice, I would need to get a heat mat first... And no - I usually don't bother washing pots either.

  13. Yes, you absolutely are a seed-starting maniac! But that is a good thing to be.

  14. You weren't kidding - you ARE a seed-starting maniac! This is my 1st year starting seeds inside using a heat mat, grow lights and a water wicking tool (to prevent overwatering). Some of my seedlings came up super-fast but they're spindly, although the slower to germinate Digitalis seedlings look pretty good. I've also direct sown some outside as I've done in years past - Borage and California poppies come up without a lot of fuss but I wanted to try a few more difficult plants this year. I think I'll try your berry cloche idea.

  15. Looks like you are having a great time!! I was out the last couple of days starting seeds. Mostly veggie seeds and then I walked around sprinkling poppy, larkspur and Bachelor button seeds.
    I hope you had the same nice weather we had today!

  16. That's a lot of pre-plants! It's good to see all the little seedlings popping up. I have a ton of seed I want to sow that I'm having to put off because of the move.

  17. No wonder you wanted a proper greenhouse! You are already putting it to good use. You're way ahead of me. I don't have a lot of seeds but what I do have is going to have to wait for the weekend. Please keep us posted on your progress. This is awesome.

  18. Yes I do start seeds! I enjoyed seeing all the ways you are using. Cloches - what a lovely idea. I saw cloches at the palace in Kew Gardens where King George III or was it IV? went mad! They were beautiful pottery ones. I like your heat mats - I have one but it's large and cumbersome. I enjoyed this post a lot!

  19. Seed starting maniac just about sums you up. Whatever are you going to do with so many plants? You know the nursery rhyme about the old woman who lived in a shoe who had so many children she didn't know what to do? It reminds me of you. I'm not suggesting that you are an old woman and I'm sure you don't live in a shoe. But all those children!

  20. I doubt I could come up with a better term to describe you Allison - you are indeed a Seed starting maniac! It's all good though, there are worse conditions to have ;)

  21. I am also a seed maniac but, living in Ontario Canada, I cannot start as early as you do, except for seeds that require freezing.
    This year I am trying something new for some of the seeds. It is called a "Seed Starts Pad" (Product of Nature). It is made of Kenaf plant fiber. It is very thin. When the seed has sprouted you move the pad on top of soil. It will be interesting to see how it works.
    I also use cloches and plastic pop bottles with the bottom cut off. Usually I use these for cuttings, but thank you for the suggestion of using them to start seeds. I will try it. Good luck with all your seeds.

  22. Good luck with your gardening.

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

  23. My goodness you have so many ways to start seeds. I have a portable plastic greenhouse but never use it except to harden off seedlings. I have not started perennials before, but hope to learn more. Love the cloches.

  24. Wow! You really are a seed-starting maniac! You're much kinder to your outdoor seeds than I am. I just toss them randomly, no covers or anything. I'm not doing as much seed propagation for the ornamental garden this year, but I am doing more for the vegetable garden. I always have some level of damping off in my greenhouse. It's too cool and humid. I need to rearrange things so the seeds are next to the power outlet and I can use my heat mats. Just adjusted a fan to point at the seeds, hopefully that helps, too.


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