Tag: seeds

Problem and Solution: Leggy Seedlings

I have been growing brassicas from seed for a number of years and have always had a problem with them going leggy in their starting pots. They always have plenty of light. My Aunt, who lives in England, has the same problem with hers. Is there is a way to prevent the legginess?

You’re on the right track to get your seedlings off to their best start. Good, stocky transplants are vital to a good harvest from your plants.

There are two reasons that young seedlings become leggy – light or temperature or a combination of the two. The light could be too weak or too far away from the plant and the soil temperature or the air temperature could be too warm. Since brassicas are cool season plants it is generally best to start and grow the seedlings on the cool side. A soil temperature of about 55 degrees with daytime air temperatures of about 65 degrees and nighttime air temperatures of around 55 degrees is just about right. They need bright light and a large south window will work, but be sure to rotate them one-quarter turn everyday so they will be stocky.

Even better, since broccoli and other brassicas are often started earlier in the year than most seedlings and light levels are low, use a fluorescent light fixture with two 40 watt tubes and position them so that the lights are 2-inches above the starting medium. Keep raising the light as the plants grow so that the lights are always 2-inches above the leaf tips. Provide 14 – 16 hours of light each day.

Keep your seedling moist but not soggy, provide for good humidity and some fertilization at half strength about every two weeks. When they have developed the first set of true leaves, thin them to one seedling per pot or transplant them to individual pots. Continue growing (and rotating) them until it’s time to start hardening them off, about two weeks before planting time. I’ll bet you can already taste that first, sweet harvest.

Plant a Seed

This activity gives children a firsthand experience in growing plants. The magic of planting a seed and watching it spring to life can spark a child’s sense of wonder. Teaching a child to care for a plant is a good way to help them gain a better appreciation and understanding of the natural world around them.


  • Potting Soil
  • Containers such as egg cartons, or milk cartons cut in half or recycled nursery packs with added drainage holes
  • Easy Seeds:


Planting a Seed Fill your containers with potting soil.

Plant the seeds and water.

Place the planted containers in a sunny window and keep the soil consistently moist.

Transplant outside after the last frost date in your area.

Good to Know

All seeds have a hard protective outer covering that protects the embryo plant inside until conditions are favorable for it to grow. Seeds contain nutrients for the young plant to draw on until it can emerge through the soil and photosynthesis can begin. Through the process of photosynthesis, the plant uses energy from the sun, and stores that energy in the tissue of the plant.

More than 230,000 different kinds of plants reproduce from seeds.

The pull of gravity tells a seedling which way is down. That is how the roots know which way to grow.

Some plant roots are strong enough to break boulders.

To learn more about planting pumpkins and other seeds, check out the video below!

Seed Guide: Start Indoors or Direct Sow

Plant seeds are miraculous things from which great things grow. Soil, sun, and moisture transform the little dry pods into colorful flowers, tasty vegetables and even trees!

Unfortunately it’s because of this magical metamorphosis that many gardeners
shy away from growing plants from seeds. It’s just hard to believe that a
vibrant, living thing can be easily coaxed out of a seemingly lifeless seed.
But this doubt can be cast aside when armed with a little bit of information.

Essentials for Successful Indoor Seed Planting


Newly sown flower and vegetable seeds don’t need much light until they germinate. Once the stems start to emerge, move seeds trays to an area that receives bright light.

Sterile Potting Medium

To prevent seedling diseases always use new soil. Any loose soil mix will do.


Thoroughly water your newly planted seeds. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. A spray bottle is a good tool to have on hand to water seedlings.


Soil temperature is important. Cool soil slows seed germination. I use an
electric grow mat under my seed trays to make sure the soil is around 75°
or so until seedlings emerge. Provide an air temperature of 70 to
75° during the day and night temperature of at least 60 to 65°.


Hollyhock Seedlings

You can start seeds in almost any container; it doesn’t have to be fancy.
I’ve used plastic flats, trays, clay pots, compressed peat pellets, and
even a make-yoru-own-paper cup from recycled newspaper with a little
gadget called an N. Viropotter. Cut-off milk cartons or plastic jugs,
and egg cartons can also be used to start seeds. Last season’s flats,
trays, and pots should be cleaned and disinfected before use. Wash the
containers in soapy water, and then disinfect them in a solution of one
part chlorine bleach and nine parts water. Be sure to add holes in the
bottom of the containers to allow for drainage.

Which Plants Grow Best from Seeds

The question of whether to start plants from seeds or purchase potted
plants from a garden center can be confusing. Starting seeds indoors
is inexpensive, allows you to grow unique varieties and gives you a
jump start on spring. This last point is especially important if
you live in an area with a short growing season. However, if the
plant is difficult to grow from seeds it is more advantageous to
purchase a potted plant from the nursery.

Here is a list of common vegetables and herbs along with an explanation of how easy (or difficult) the plant is to grow from seeds.

TypeSeed IndoorsSeed OutdoorsPotted Plant
TomatoesYes for unusual varieties, to get an early start.DifficultYes
PeppersYes for unusual varieties, to get an early start.NoYes
CornNot necessaryYesYes
CucumberNot NecessaryYesYes
RadishesNot NecessaryRadishes grow rapidly from seeds sown directly in the garden.Not Necessary
ArugulaNot NecessaryYesYes
SquashYes for unusual varieties, to get an early start.YesYes
TurnipsNot NecessaryYesNo
CarrotsNot NecessaryYesNo
Winter SquashNoYesYes

Seedling Diagnosis

Depending on when the last frost date is in your area, by early March you’ve either begun your seeds indoors, or are gearing up to start.  There is a lot of hope in those packets of seeds, but sometimes hopes can be dashed if everything doesn’t go as planned.

Even under the best circumstances, you might run into a few problems. Here’s a list of a common symptoms and the corrective measures you can take to solve them.

Symptom: Spindly or Leggy Growth
Causes: Low light, too much water, excessively warm temperatures, over fertilization, crowded plants.

Corrective Measures:
Some seeds will germinate without much light, but seedlings need bright light.  Use grow lights if a sunny window is not available.  Position the lights 4 inches above the seed tray and leave the lights on for 16 hours a day.  Don’t forget to raise the lights as the seedlings grow taller.

Provide an air temperature of 70 to 75 degrees during the day and night temperature of at least 60 to 65 degrees.

Soil should be kept consistently moist, but not soggy. Mist with a spray bottle or water from the bottom up by placing the containers in a pan filled with 1 inch of warm water.  Once the soil is moist, remove the seed pots from the pan.

Wait until seedlings have produced their first set of true leaves to fertilize.  This is actually the second set of leaves that emerge.  Use a liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength.  Feed once a week.

Sow seeds and thin seedlings according to the packet instructions to prevent overcrowding.

Symptom: Dwarf Plants
Causes: Low fertility.

Corrective Measures: Because there is so little soil, nutrient levels are hard to maintain.  As mentioned above, feed with a liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength after the first set of true leaves emerge. Feed once a week.

Some seed starting soil mixtures contain nutrients such as Mycorrhizae, a naturally occurring fungus that promotes strong root development.

Symptom: Decay or rotting of the stems of young plants near the soil surface.
Causes: Damping-off. Disease organisms attack germinating seeds and young plants, especially during prolonged cloudy weather.

Corrective Measures:
Use a sterile soil-mix designed for seed starting.

Mound the soil in the container so that it is flush with the edge of the pot.  This will allow air flow across the surface of the soil.

Symptom: Wilting followed by death of the seedling.  Tiny insects hovering around soil.
Causes: Fungus gnat larvae will feed on the roots of the seedlings.  Adult fungus gnats are those pesky, small flying insects that hover around potting soil.  They are attracted to moist potting soils that have a high organic content.

Corrective Measures:
Use a well draining potting soil.

If you see the adult gnats, cut back on water to make the soil less attractive to the adult female gnat. You don’t need to stop watering completely, just allow the soil to dry out between watering.

Placing a moist slice of potato on top of the soil will attract the larvae.  Throw out the potato slice to get rid of the larvae .

Seeds for Direct Sowing

I believe that seeds suffer from a case of mistaken identity. They are often described as being difficult or labor intensive. While it might take the right equipment and know how to sow seeds indoors, there are some plants that will spring right from the ground where the seeds are sown. These are “direct sown” seeds or seeds that you can sow in the garden rather than starting in pots or flats.

Some seeds are better suited to direct sowing than others. For example, tomato seeds can be finicky, so it’s a good idea to start them in pots first. Also, if you live in a region where summers are short, starting seeds indoors will give plants the additional weeks they need to mature for flowers or fruits. To check a seed’s disposition toward direct sowing read the back of the package. Look for clues such as “sow directly in the garden,” “volunteer,” “reseeds,” and “does not transplant well.”

Direct Sowing SeedsBecause you are planting outdoors you won’t have as much control over the environment so Mother Nature can throw you some curveballs. Excessively wet or dry weather, insect pests, and birds can reduce your success.

Before you get started read the directions on the seed package. It’s important to how and when to sow individual varieties. You also need an understanding of the mature plant’s requirements – light, water, soil – to know where to sow the seeds.

Sow seeds in soil that drains well and is mixed with amendments such as compost so that it is light. Follow the package instructions. I like to tamp down on the soil after the seeds are planted to make good soil to seed contact. Gently shower the area with water. Use a hose with a spray attachment or a watering can with a rose so you don’t wash away the seeds.

The most important part of seed sowing, whether indoors or out, is keeping the soil consistently moist. Not too wet or dry. Soggy soil invites diseases and dry soil will stop germination.

Once your seeds are sown, you can start the best part – going out every day to check on their progress.

Seeds for Direct Sowing

  • Arugula
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Radish
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Beets
  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Chard
  • Okra
  • Corn
  • Nasturtiums
  • Sunflowers
  • Zinnias
  • Bachelor Button
  • Cosmos
  • Poppy
  • Moon Flowers
  • Morning Glories
  • Hyacinth Bean Vine

Sowing Seeds in Containers

I’ve always made space in my garden for sowing seeds of annuals such as larkspur, verbena-on-a-stick and gomphrena, but this year my habit has spread beyond the borders of my flowerbeds and into containers.

Because, truly, what could be easier than filling a pot with soil and sprinkling a few seeds around? That is about all it takes to create a beautiful container overflowing with colorful blooms.

The best varieties are those that can be direct sown and germinate easily. I’ve had luck with cosmos, heirloom petunias and cock’s comb to name a few. For large containers try dwarf sunflowers or cleome. Make sure you keep the soil consistently moist while the seeds are germinating. As they grow into seedlings, you may want to thin them a bit so they don’t get overcrowded.

And as an added bonus you can save seeds from many of these varieties for growing next year.

August is the time that I start collecting seeds from the annuals that are currently flowering in my garden. If you want to try your hand at seed saving just let some of the flowers mature and form seedpods. The pods are ready for harvesting when they are dry and brittle, but before they break open.

On a dry, sunny day, after the dew has evaporated, collect the seeds by shaking them onto a piece of paper. It’s important to make sure the seeds are thoroughly dry before you store them in labeled, airtight, plastic bags or mason jars. Once sealed, store them indoors in a cool, dry place until you are ready to plant them in your garden or containers next summer.

Cottage Garden Style from Seeds

Allen, I’m starting a garden, and I want to get the look of a country cottage. I’m on a budget, so I’m willing to start from seeds. Any suggestions on plants to try?
Washington D.C. (zone 7A)

Well, I have to tell you, when I first started my garden, I had spent so much money renovating my old house, I didn’t have a lot to spend on the garden, so I started with seeds.

Many homeowners think that the only way to have lots of big, beautiful blooms is to load up their cars with flats of plants from the garden center.

While this is fantastic for getting the wow factor, if you’re on a budget, it’s probably not very practical. So an alternative, as you mentioned, is picking up a few packets of flower seeds.

One of the easiest ways to start seedlings is in containers. After the last frost date in your area, just scatter a handful of seed in a pot filled with soil. Keep it moist, and within a few days, the flower seed will begin to sprout and fill the container.

When it’s time to thin some of the seedlings, you can transplant the extras into little, four-inch containers and grow them all for planting in other areas of your garden.

Now, some of the garden seeds that I like to start for transplanting into the garden include hollyhock, marigolds, zinnias, hyacinth bean vine, nicotiana, and cleome.

What is Fireweed?

I took a trip to Alaska and while there I bought the postcard series of Alaskan seeds. When I got home, I read the planting instructions about one of the seeds, fireweed, and the notation on the packet said not to open packets in the National Parks. I’m wondering if the seeds will spread like dandelions and go over to our neighbors’ lawns.

Fireweed, or epilobium, is often described as a vigorous grower. The plant propagates by wind borne seeds that can travel long distances and spreading rhizomes, which is how it gets its reputation as being aggressive. It depends on the species as to whether fireweed is just a garden thug or an invasive threat.

Epilobium angustifolium is listed as being garden worthy, while Epilobium hirsutum is considered an invasive weed. However, it is a popular plant with hummingbirds, so if you have an area where it can do its thing, fireweed can be a nice addition to your garden. On the other hand if you live in close proximity to your neighbors, the seeds should probably be kept in their package as a souvenir.

Fireweed is often the first plant to appear after a forest fire, hence the name. It thrives in full sun and will tolerate a variety of soil conditions.

Fireweed is a North American native and you can grow it in zones 2 through 9. The plant can reach a mature height of up to 8’and blooms from July to September.

10 Unusual Plants to Grow From Seeds

When it comes to creating a sense of hopeful expectation there is not much in the gardening world that can compare to seeds.  It’s fascinating to me that so much can be produced from something so inconspicuous.

Because a pack of seeds is such a small investment, starting plants from seeds is an economical way to experiment with unusual varieties.  I’ve been looking through a stack of new seed catalogs that are full of interesting flowers and vegetables I want to try out in my garden next year.

While it seems like I’ve dog-eared every page in the catalog, there are ten unique varieties that begged to be shared with others.  Some of these I’ve grown before and others are new to me.

10 Unusual Plants You Can Grow From Seeds

Night Phlox ‘Midnight Candy’ (Zaluzianskya) – This little flower makes a statement with intoxicating evening fragrance.  The dark burgundy buds open at dusk.  The blooms are white with five heart shaped petals and a yellow eye.  For the best display sow seeds generously.  I suggest growing these in a pot positioned somewhere you can enjoy the fragrance.
Annual, full sun, 18-inches tall.

Eyeball PlantEyeball Plant (Spilanthes) – Because of its funny name, odd blooms and edible foliage, this is a great little plant to get children interested in the garden.  Spilanthes grows into a lush green blanket of foliage with an abundance of round, golden blooms that have a dark brown dot on top, giving the flower the appearance of an eyeball staring up at you from the ground. This plant is also called toothache plant because of the leaves will slightly numb your gums if you eat them. Before you do, be sure no chemicals were used on the plants.
Annual, full sun to partial shade, 12 – 18 inches tall.

Pumpkin on a Stick (Solanum integrifolium) – I really wish I had a photo of this plant to show you.  Although the fruits look like tiny pumpkins, this plant is really an eggplant.  The foliage is large and almost resembles oak leaves.  Small, orange pumpkin looking fruits are borne on dark purple, thorny stems.  I’ve been told that the fruits are bitter, but the fruits can be dried on the stems for arrangements.
Annual, full sun to partial shade, 36 to 48 inches tall.

Spanish FlagSpanish Flag Vine (Ipomoea lobata) – This fast growing vine produces racemes of blooms on tips of scarlet stems.  The tubular flowers emerge red and fade to orange and then creamy white.  It’s a spectacular display from summer into fall.  Last year the Spanish Flag in my garden was still flowering in late November.
Tender perennial grown as an annual, full sun to partial shade, 6 to 15 feet vining plant.

Red Malabar Spinach (Basella alba ‘Rubra’) – While not a true spinach, this climbing plant is ideal for containers and small gardens because it doesn’t require much growing room.  Red Malabar SpinachIt’s not only edible, but beautiful too with large dark green leaves on scarlet vines. Pre-soaking the seed for 24 hours in warm water before planting shortens the germination time.
Annual, full sun, 8 to 10 feet tall.

Billy Button (Craspedia globosa) – This is a striking bloom in the garden, and in cut flower bouquets and dried arrangements, too.  This Australian native has tall sturdy stems topped with golden yellow, 1-inch round blooms.  Silvery gray upright foliage provides an excellent contrast to the flowers.  It’s a tender perennial that is most often grown has an annual.
Perennial is zones 8 – 9, full sun, 24 to 36 inches tall.

Ronde de Nice Zucchini‘Ronde de Nice’ Zucchini (Cucurbita pepo) –This summer vegetable produces a compact plant with large yellow flowers that develop into round, green and cream speckled fruits.  The flavor is best when the fruits are between 1 to 3 inches in diameter.  When harvested young they are delicious sautéed whole in chicken broth and butter with fresh, chopped herbs.
Annual, full sun, 18 to 24 inches tall and 36 to 48 inches wide.

Lemon Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) – This is a unique oval cucumber that is cream colored with yellow highlights.  In addition to its delightful appearance the flavor is crisp and less bitter than other cucumber varieties.   Lemon CucumberThis is an ideal variety for cucumber sandwiches or salads or just sliced with a little salt and pepper.
Annual, full sun.

Lion’s Tail (Leonotis leonurus) – This member of the mint family produces whorls of bright orange flowers that graduate up the flower stalk giving it the appearance of a plant that would be right at home in Whoville.   Leonotis leonurus has a bushier form than its much taller and lankier cousin Leonotis nepetafolia.
Annual, full sun, 4 to 6 feet tall.

Bishops LaceBishop’s Lace (Ammi majus) – This wildflower looks a lot like Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) with clusters of tiny white flowers that form large umbels.  The ferny foliage and delicate blooms on tall stalks make this versatile plant well suited for either the cottage or contemporary garden.  While this plant will reseed, it’s not invasive like Queen Anne’s Lace and deadheading the flowers will keep it further in check.
Annual, full sun, 24 to 36 inches.

Seed Buying Tips:

  • Although seeds usually don’t start appearing in garden centers until early spring the best time to order seeds is in winter.  This is especially true if you have your heart set on any specialty seeds or new varieties. These tend to be available in limited quantities that sell out quickly.
  • Although it’s easy to get carried away when ordering seeds, keep in mind that seeds turn into lots of plants.  As when purchasing any new additions for your garden make a plan of how you will use the plants.
  • While we all love a bargain, buying cheap seeds can lead to wasted effort.  Buy quality seeds from a reliable source.  If you do purchase your seeds on sale, check the expiration date on the package to make sure they were packaged for the current year’s growing season.
  • Get to know the seed company before you make your purchase.  Check the return policy and look for reviews on consumer watchdog websites.

Lion's Tail

Seed Sources:

Thompson and Morgan
Seeds of Change
Renee’s Garden
Johnny Seeds
Wildseed Farms