Seeds need a good start for success

Seeds need a good start for success

by C.L. Fornari

Are you suspicious of seeds? Worried, perhaps, that something so tiny couldn't possibly grow into beautiful plants? If so, you're not alone. I've heard homeowners from Boston to Washington, D.C., say that they're wary about starting from scratch.

Expert gardeners from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region admit that all seeds aren't equally easy to grow. It's important to know which seeds are easy to start outdoors and to follow a few simple tips for success.

One annual that always should be planted outside from seed is the sunflower.

"Sunflowers such as Mammoth, Lemon Queen and Italian White are beautiful, but sunflowers in pots get stunted right away," says Toni Ann Flanigan, owner of Philadelphia Garden Inc. "When I plant sunflower seeds outdoors, they're simple to grow, strong and acclimated from the start."

Other flowers that are easy from seed include nasturtium, zinnia and alyssum. Before planting these in the ground, turn the soil with a trowel or garden fork. Small roots have an easier time penetrating loosened soil than compacted dirt. Many vegetable seeds can also be planted directly outdoors.

"Growing vegetables from seed is pretty straightforward and easy," says Mike Mahoney, co-owner, grower and manager of vegetables for highly rated Mahoney's Garden Centers located throughout Massachusetts. "Beans, lettuce, cucumbers and squashes are very easy to plant directly outside."

The size of the seeds determines how deeply they're planted. In general, larger seeds get covered with a layer of soil that's about the same thickness as the seed. Tinier seeds shouldn't get buried at all.

"If the seeds are small, just gently press them into the surface of the soil," says Misty Kuceris, plant care specialist at highly rated Burke Nursery in Burke, Va.

Although the plants listed above do well when sown directly outdoors, some varieties, such as tomatoes, can be started inside. You just need the right potting mix, lighting and right temperature.

"The lack of sun and not using seed starting mix is where people go wrong," Mahoney says.

Don't use dirt from the garden to grow seeds indoors. Such soil is filled with weed seeds and assorted fungi that can cause young plants to wilt indoors. Young plants should be grown in a very sunny location as well.

"Very often I hear people talking about how they get their seeds going, but the plants start to stretch because there isn't enough light," Mahoney says.

In addition to lots of sun, watering is important. Flanigan warns of overwatering, and recommends just keeping the seeds and seedlings moist. She also encourages reading the information on the seed packet. Most companies provide suggested planting dates and other requirements specific to that particular plant.

Finally, introducing young plants to the outdoors gradually is crucial. Place them in a shady spot at first, moving them into more sun over the course of a week.

C.L. Fornari is a writer, garden consultant, professional speaker and radio host who is dedicated to creating beautiful landscapes and successful gardeners. She gardens on Cape Cod, blogs at and offers other garden articles at

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(Photo courtesy of C.L. Fornari)
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The arrival of spring's warmer temperatures means more Northeastern homeowners are looking to improve or upgrade their landscape. Garden expert C.L. Fornari offers tips and advice for making a garden or landscape design that suits your needs.

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