Growing aster from seed

Aster Seed – Aster Alpinus Blue Flower Seeds

Flower Specifications

Season: Perennial

USDA Zones: 4 – 8

Height: 10 – 12 inches

Bloom Season: Spring and summer

Bloom Color: Blue

Environment: Full sun to partial shade

Soil Type: Well-drained, pH 6.0 – 7.8

Deer Resistant: Yes

Planting Directions

Temperature: 68F

Average Germ Time: 14 – 21 days

Light Required: No

Depth: 1/16 inch

Sowing Rate: 4 seeds per plant

Moisture: Keep moist until germination

Plant Spacing: 12 inches

Care & Maintenance: Aster

Aster (Aster Alpinus Blue) – Aster Alpinus is known for adapting. It can do well in full sun or partial shade, and it’s very cold tolerant. It grows readily from Aster seeds and produces abundant flowers in shades of blue throughout the summer and into early autumn. Asters are known for strong flowering stalks with large flower heads. The flowers provide a good source of nectar for bees.

Asters perform best in full sun, but they will also provide a nice display in partial shade. Aster plants prefer to be in well-drained soil that has been incorporated with organic matter. Removal of spent flowering stalks can be accomplished with a set of pruners or scissors. ‘Deadheading’ encourages new blooms. Make the cut just above the basal rosette of leaves. Sow Aster flower seed indoors in early spring using starter mix. Press flower seed into soil and barely cover. Transplant into the garden 12 inches apart. For areas with long growing season, Aster seeds can be started directly outdoors after frost danger has passed.

By Julie Christensen

Few flowers are as bright and cheery in the garden as asters. These perennial plants bloom from late summer to fall, when most other plants are dwindling. Asters are loved for their daisy-like flowers that come in a wide range of hues. The plants create a bright spot in the garden and also attract butterflies, birds and bees.

Found in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 8, asters grow best in areas with cool, mild summers. If you live in a dry, hot or overly humid area, you’ll probably struggle with asters. If, on the other hand, you live in a place with mild summer days and cool nights, such as the Pacific Northwest, your asters will thrive.

Planting Asters

Asters can be planted from seed, but they’re slow to grow and germination is inconsistent. Most gardeners prefer to grow asters from nursery transplants. Choose a protected site that gets full sun to partial shade. Amend average garden soil with compost, peat moss and manure to improve drainage and provide the rich, moist medium asters prefer. Set asters out in late spring, after the last expected frost. Water frequently as the plant becomes established.

Growing Asters

Established plants should be fertilized every spring with a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of ½ cup per plant. Broadcast the fertilizer around the plant, being careful not to get it on the plants’ leaves. At the same time, spread 1 inch of compost around the plants and top with 2 to 3 inches of wood chip mulch. The mulch helps conserve moisture and keeps the plants’ leaves dry. Mature plants are somewhat finicky about moisture conditions. If the soil is too wet or too dry, the plants drop their leaves and might not flower. Aim for soil that is consistently moist, but never soggy. Use soaker hoses or drip systems, rather than overhead sprinklers, which can spread disease.

Asters range considerably in size, depending on the variety. Dwarf varieties that grow only 8 inches tall are ideal for rock gardens or in the front of the border. Large varieties can stretch 8 feet tall. These varieties often need staking, particularly in windy areas, which is why it’s a good idea to place them in a protected spot. Divide the plants every two to three years if they seem overcrowded or growth slows. Deadhead spent flowers to encourage more blooms and cut the plants back in late fall or early spring.

Caring for Asters

Asters suffer from several diseases, especially in hot, humid climates. Powdery mildew causes a white growth to form on the leaves. Space plants so air circulates freely and use soaker hoses. Apply fungicides labeled for treating powdery mildew. Leaf spots, rust and stem cankers are also common. Plant disease-resistant varieties and clean up any plant debris. Remove diseased plants promptly so the disease doesn’t spread.

As far as insect pests, you’ll find the usual suspects: mites, aphids, slugs, snails and nematodes. Aphids and mites often move on without any help from you, but if infestations are severe, spray the plants with a stream of water or spray both the tops and bottoms of the leaves with insecticidal oil. To combat slugs and snails, set a wooden board in the garden. The slugs and snails like to hide in this moist, dark area. Turn over the board and handpick the pests. Drop them in a bucket of soapy water. You can also use slug and snail traps, but read the packaging carefully. Some of these products are toxic to humans and pets.

Aster Varieties

There are more than 250 species of asters, ranging from the common perennials to annuals, and from climbing vines and shrub-like plants. In hot climates, your best bet is to grow asters as biennials or annuals, replacing them frequently.

Try King George (Aster amellus), a perennial variety with deep-blue blooms, or Silver Spray, which has white blooms tinged with pink.

Want to learn more about growing asters?

Visit the following links:

Genus Aster from Fine Gardening
Aster Tataricus from Missouri Botanical Garden

Julie Christensen learned about gardening on her grandfather’s farm and mother’s vegetable garden in southern Idaho. Today, she lives and gardens on the high plains of Colorado. When she’s not digging in the dirt, Julie writes about food, education, parenting and gardening.

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae
New England Aster

*PLEASE NOTE: we are a mail order nursery and have no retail facilities, but you may pick up your order if prior arrangements are made. Pick up orders are subject to **MN Sales Tax.

Shipping & Handling Charges:

SEED $100.00 and under: $5.00
over $100.00: 5% of the total seed cost
(for orders over $1,000 a package signature will be required)

TOOLS and BOOKS have the shipping fee included in the cost of the product (within the contiguous US).

**We are required to collect state sales tax in certain states. Your state’s eligibility and % will be calculated at checkout. MN State Sales Tax of 7.375% is applied for orders picked up at our MN location. Shipping & handling charges are also subject to the sales tax.

Shipping Season:

SEED, TOOLS and BOOKS are sent year-round. Most orders ship within a day or two upon receipt.

BARE ROOT PLANTS are shipped during optimal transplanting time: Spring (April-May) and Fall (Oct). Some ephemeral species are also available for summer shipping. Since our plants are field-grown, Nature sets the schedule each year as to when our season will begin and end. We fill all orders, on a first-come, first-serve basis, to the best of our ability depending on weather conditions beyond our control.

POTTED PLANTS (Trays of 38 and 3-packs) typically begin shipping early May and go into June; shipping time is heavily dependent on all the species in your order being well-rooted. If winter-spring greenhouse growing conditions are favorable and all species are well-rooted at once, then we ship by order date (first come, first serve). We are a Midwest greenhouse, and due to the challenges of getting all the species in the Mix & Match and Pre-Designed Garden Kits transit-ready at the same time, we typically can’t ship before early May. Earlier shipment requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

*We are unable to ship PLANTS (bare root or potted) outside the contiguous US or to CALIFORNIA due to regulations.

Delivery:

We ship using USPS, UPS and Spee Dee. UPS and Spee Dee are often used for expediting plant orders; they will not deliver to Post Office Box numbers, so please also include your street address if ordering plants. We send tracking numbers to your email address so please include it when you order.

FOR MORE DETAILED SHIPPING INFORMATION, INCLUDING CANADA SHIPPING RATES (SEED ONLY), PLEASE SEE ‘SHIPPING’ AT THE FOOTER OF THIS WEBSITE.

New England Aster Seeds Aster novae-angliae

Planting the Wildflower Garden of Your Dreams – in 5 Easy Steps!

As many experienced gardeners are aware, planting wildflower seed is a relatively simple task; but it is not completely effortless. Like any worthwhile gardening project, the more time and effort that you are willing and able to allot to proper preparation, the more successful the results are likely to be. The following steps are designed to assist the wildflower gardener in establishing a wildflower meadow that will impress and inspire for years to come… 1) Choose Your Season: It is a pleasant surprise for many gardeners to learn that wildflower seeds can be successfully installed at various times throughout the growing season. Though spring is the most common and conventional time of the year to sow wildflower seed; successful results can also be achieved by planting in summer and fall as well. This seasonal versatility is a great advantage to the wildflower gardener and brings many diverse benefits and possibilities. Spring Planting: For most temperate regions of the United States, spring planting is best carried out within a month or so after the final frost of the winter season. The exact date will naturally vary based on your region and the severity of the winter season. The important thing is to not ‘jump the gun” and plant too early; if seeds are installed prior to a late-season frost, they will be lost for the season and will need to be re-seeded. Summer Planting: Summer planting is advisable for cooler areas where temperatures don’t hover at 80 degrees or more for long periods of time. Fall Planting: Though it may seem unusual to plant flower seeds in fall, it is actually the preferred time of year for many seasoned wildflower gardeners. The main benefit: a jump-start in bloom the following spring! However, if you do decide to plant your seeds in the fall, the trick is to do so after the first killing frost of the season. 2) Choose Your Site: It may sound obvious enough, but choosing the most advantageous site on your property is a very important determinant in the eventual success of your wildflower meadow. The most important factors to consider in this regard are the amount of average daily sunlight, the relative quality of the soil, and the accessibility to a water source like a hose or a sprinkler. Though many wildflowers do tolerate some filtered shade – and a few actually thrive in it – the vast majority are definitely sun-lovers and will likely demonstrate the strongest bloom where exposure is greatest. Therefore, the general rule of thumb when considering the optimum planting site on your property is “the more sun the better”. This naturally means that areas with little or no tree coverage and as little obstruction from any structure such as a house, garage, or barn are best. Soil too is sometimes a consideration when planting wildflowers, but it’s important to keep in mind that wildflowers will generally sprout in all but the most difficult conditions. This means that pampering your site with fertilizer or rich sod is not usually necessary. In fact, doing so can sometimes achieve the opposite result by inviting unwanted weeds and grasses. Only in the poorest of conditions, where the soil is literally sterile, is using an accelerant advisable. Lastly, when choosing the best site for your seed installation, the availability of a steady watering source is helpful, but not usually necessary. In most regions and during most seasons, natural rainfall will be sufficient to provide the water necessary for a successful bloom. However, if you live in a particularly arid region, are planting during drier months, or are simply experiencing prolonged drought, it will definitely be to your advantage to water your site every other day or so for the first few weeks after planting until root growth is established. 3) Determine Your Desired Coverage: If there’s one thing we’ve learned after almost three decades of consulting with wildflower gardeners, it’s that there is no perfect answer for how much seed is required to create the perfect wildflower meadow. The reason for this, of course, is that each “wild” gardener has his or her own particular ideas about how a meadow should look. Though some choose to create a sparse “meadowy” look, most others prefer a denser stand of flowers that will dazzle and delight come bloom time. Whichever effect suits your taste and budget, remember to always keep in mind that you are, after all, creating a “wild” flower garden and that the same yardstick used for hybrid flowers, herbs, vegetables, etc. does not apply. We have constructed the following chart to provide a general guide to seeding rates. It should be noted that our recommended rates are admittedly higher than many of our competitors. Is that just because we want to sell more seed, you ask? Well, of course we’re in the business of selling seed, but the real basis of our recommendations comes from our customers, who have told us for decades that they usually prefer to spend a little more money for a lot more color. After all, most folks that have undertaken a wildflower planting have allotted a considerable portion of their property to the project, and naturally want to see lush, and season-long, results. One other note to keep in mind when deciding how much seed is required for your project is that there is considerable variance between species and mixtures. We generally recommend one standard seeding rate for all wildflower mixtures, while the rates for species will vary widely (see Fast Facts above). 4) Clear Existing Growth & Loosen The Soil: This is an absolutely vital step in the installation of any successful wildflower seed project. Though it may sound tempting to randomly cast your seeds into thin air and hope they will sprout, it is simply a waste of time and money to do so on a site that has not been properly prepared for planting. Though wildflower seeds are tenacious by nature – and a few might even persevere under the most inhospitable of circumstances – they, like all seeds, will perform best when rid of noxious weeds and grasses. There are several ways to effectively remove existing growth and cultivate your soil, and the size of the site will typically be the deciding factor in which method is ultimately chosen. For smaller sites, a rake, hoe, or shovel is often sufficient to do the trick of removing unwanted grass, weeds, etc., while for larger sites, a roto-tiller is often the preferred method. Regardless of what tool or machine is used, the important thing to remember is that the more growth that can be removed, and the more the soil can be loosened, the better the environment for which your seeds to ultimately thrive. Of course, also keep in mind that, after all, these are “wild” flowers, not roses, and so naturally there will be competition from weeds and grasses. The bottom line is: work the soil as best you can, but don’t panic when some weeds sprout along with the flowers! 5) Sow Your Seed! So now you’ve got some sweat on your brow and you’re ready to plant! There are many effective installation techniques, but again, the size of the project will probably determine which makes the most sense for you. The two methods that are probably most advisable for the home-owner are 1) the old fashioned hand-broadcast method (for smaller jobs), and 2) the use of a rotary or “cyclone” seeder (for larger jobs). The former involves simply scattering the seed evenly over the site by hand, while the latter accomplishes the same results through the use a hand-cranked spreader that can be purchased relatively cheaply at any garden center. If seeding an area of several acres or more, hydro-seeding is our recommended method, and we invite you to contact us for information if your plans to call for such a sizable project. Regardless of which sowing method you choose, we strongly recommend mixing your seed with regular “sand box” sand at a ratio of about 5 parts (sand) to 1 part (seed). This allows for a more even distribution and also provides a convenient way to mark which portions of the site have been seeded and which have not. This is not a required method for a successful planting, but most will find it a simple, affordable, and practical step. After sowing, we recommend that you lightly compress your seeds into the soil – no more than a ½ inch – so as to protect them from birds, wind disbursement, etc. The key here is to compress them, but not bury them. If the site is of a manageable size, you can accomplish this by simply walking over the portion that’s just been seeded, or if it’s a larger area, you might want to use a standard seed roller; often used when planting grass seed. Now, you’re finished! It’s time to kick back and watch the “seeds” of your labor take root. .

How To Grow Perennial Flowers From Seed

Sometimes it seems as though nature can disperse viable perennial seeds to grow everywhere but germinating the seed at home is a challenge. Typically this is because the seeds are conditioned to go through specific conditions prior to germination. For plants native to the north such as the native Echinaceas, that includes a cold period whereas lavender and rosemary, which are native to the Mediterranean, require excellent drainage and warmth to germinate. Many perennials though, such as Asclepias (Butterfly Weed) and Alaska Shasta Daisies can be grown very successfully from seed.

When sowing seeds for perennial flowers, you need to have a good potting mix and a warm area to germinate the seeds. Sow the seeds as you would annual flowers by sprinkling over the damp potting mix and cover very lightly with more mix. Cover the seeds with plastic wrap to keep the soil moist while the seeds germinate. It takes most perennial seeds three to five weeks to germinate so you do need to be patient. Frequently some of the seeds from the same variety will germinate faster than others so you will have a few seeds up and growing while others are still dormant. Place the seedlings into good light and let them grow. Do not expect all the seeds to germinate. For perennials the germination rate may be as low as 50% in some varieties, compared to almost 95% of annual seed that will germinate.

You can increase the germination rate by chilling the seeds before you sow them and/or soaking them.

When the seed does germinate, the first leaves will be simple leaves and some true leaves will follow. The early leaves do not always look like the mature leaf, so don’t worry if they look different. The seedlings will grow slower than most annuals, and you will need to account for that by starting the seeds as much as 10 to 12 weeks before your frost date.

When the seedlings are large enough to put into the flower bed, treat them as any other seedling by hardening them off for a few days, and ensuring that they get enough water every day. The young perennial will grow steadily the first year but they do not always flower that first year.

Clearly growing perennials from seed is slightly different to growing annuals, but it is just as worthwhile. You just need to have a little patience and realistic expectations of the number of plants that will come from the seed packet.

Direct Sowing: Starting Seeds Outdoors

Vegetables

Direct-sow tap-rooted vegetables, such as carrots or radishes, that don’t transplant well as seedlings. Beets transplant well, but they prefer growing in cool soil so there’s no reason to start them indoors.

Heat-loving crops that need a long season to produce, such as tomato, pepper or eggplant, don’t yield as strong a performance when they’re direct-sown, especially in regions with short growing seasons. Start these seeds indoors. Other heat-loving crops, such as pumpkin, squash, cucumber, beans and melons, thrive when direct-sown after all danger of frost is past.

Flowers

Some flowers, including Sweet Pea, Larkspur and Bachelor’s Buttons, germinate best in cool soil and should be direct-sown early in the growing season. You also want to direct-sow bloomers that don’t transplant well as seedlings, such as Morning Glory, Nasturtium, Poppies and Moonflower.

Annuals that require a long time to grow from seed are best started indoors. Examples include Cleome, Petunia, Nicotiana and Amaranth. Other warm-season annuals, including Cosmos, Marigold and Zinnia, grow quickly from direct-sown seed.

Step-By-Step

Prepare Soil – Use a rake or hand fork to loosen soil. Break apart large soil clumps, and remove debris, such as sticks, rocks and roots. Add amendments to soil, such as fertilizer and organic matter, to create the most ideal growing situation. Finish by creating a level surface.

Dig In – Most seed packets describe planting depth. The rule of thumb is to plant at a depth equal to three times the seed diameter. There are exceptions. Some seeds require light to germinate and should rest on top of soil. Press such seeds firmly against soil using a board or trowel to ensure that moisture cradles the seeds.

Follow these other seed-sowing tips:

  • If your soil has a high clay content and tends to crust over as it dries, cover seeds with commercial seed-starting mix.
  • When sowing extremely small seeds, such as carrots or nicotiana, mix seeds with sand to aid in dispersal.
  • When sowing larger seeds, including peas and beans, create a long furrow and dribble seeds at the proper spacing. Alternatively, use a bamboo stake, dibber or pencil to form individual planting holes.

Moisture Matters – After planting, water seeds with a gentle mist or shower. Avoid using a strong splash or spray, which can dislodge seeds. It’s vital to keep soil consistently moist. In a sunny spot, this may mean watering twice a day.

Stake The Spot – Mark planting areas, especially if they’re tucked between existing plantings. Use garden markers, stakes and string, tall sticks, plastic cutlery — anything that clearly defines where seeds are buried.

Identify Seedlings – Learn what your seedlings will look like so you don’t mistakenly pull them as weeds. Some seed packets show seedling appearance; you can also find illustrations or photos online. When in doubt, let the seedling remain until you know for sure if it’s friend or foe.

Thin Seedlings – Thin seedlings as directed on the seed packet. You’ll disturb roots less if, instead of pulling seedlings you’re removing, you snip seedlings at the soil line with a fingernail or a tiny pair or snips or scissors.

Watch For Pests – Keep an eye out for and protect seedlings against Slugs, Snails, Cutworms and other insect pests.

Starting flowers, herbs, and vegetables indoors from seed is a great way to try some unique varieties.

For many of us, growing season opens with a long-awaited visit to a local garden center, to elbow our way through the crowd to a seasonal array of peppers and tomatoes, basil and parsley, impatiens and marigolds.

This is where we stock up on annual plants that will provide us with a season’s worth of blossoms and bounty.

This year, why not take a different approach?

Instead of waiting for the ground to warm up enough to plunk established plants into the soil, use the winter months to browse seed catalogs for your climate zone, order an interesting assortment, and start plants indoors, from scratch.

When was the last time you paged through seed catalogs, either in hand or online?

They’re chock full of robust, glistening vegetables in every color of the rainbow; multiple varieties of your favorite herbs, and flowers you never dreamed existed.

Why limit yourself to garden center fare, when seeds for amazing varieties like “Berkeley Tie-Dye Green” tomatoes are a mere call or click away?

Green Thumbs Up

With seeds that excite you, you’re on your way to cultivating the best blooms and produce you’ve ever had!

Below you’ll find a list of supplies, and instructions for making your own mat watering system. This is a nifty method for setting your plants up to water themselves.

By placing containers full of seedlings on a mat saturated with water, they may drink as much as they like through the drainage holes in the containers. All you need to do is keep the mat wet.

And, if you don’t want to make one, you can buy a Self Watering Seed Starting Tray with Capillary Mat, available on Amazon.com.

Self Watering Seed Starting Tray from Gardener’s Supply Company

Alternatively, you may choose to bypass the mat watering system altogether and opt to mist each seedling individually.

With that in mind, it’s on to the supplies list!

Here’s what you will need:

  • Baking pans
  • Bowls
  • Magnifying glass
  • Markers
  • Misting spray bottle
  • Nail file
  • Newspaper
  • Paper pulp egg cartons or cell trays
  • Plastic wrap
  • Potting medium
  • Scissors
  • Seeds
  • Tablespoon
  • Tape
  • Terracotta pots
  • Tweezers
  • Water

Let’s talk a little about each item and what it’s for:

Baking Pans

You’ll need some old aluminum or glass baking pans, or disposable aluminum baking pans, with one- or two-inch sides. These go under the egg cartons and cell trays as part of a mat watering system, or as drip pans for misted plants.

Bowls

Have a couple of small, clean, prep-type bowls on hand.

It’s helpful to pour seeds from a packet into a small bowl, so they don’t scatter.

Also, some seeds require soaking prior to planting. This opens the seed coats for germination, and may be done in a small bowl per seed packet instructions.

Magnifying Glass

This is a great tool for seeing and separating teeny-weeny seeds

Markers

Use a marker to write plant names on pieces of masking tape. Place a tape label on the side of each baking pan to identify its contents.

Misting Spray Bottle

Use a clean spray bottle to mist soil directly, or to keep newspaper saturated in your mat watering system.

Nail File

If your seed packet says to “scarify,” or rough up the seed coats, you may do this with a metal nail file that you have sterilized with an alcohol swab.

Simply rub the file gently across each seed a couple of times to break its coat.

Newspaper

To create a mat watering system, you’ll need to cut newspaper and stack it in your baking pans.

Paper Pulp Egg Cartons or Cell Trays

The best containers for starting seeds are biodegradable ones made of paper pulp that break down harmlessly in soil, and have individual sections – or cells – to accommodate one seed in each.

Plantation FS110 Seed Starter Pots

If you use egg cartons like I do, be sure they are clean. Discard any with broken egg residue on them.

If you prefer to buy a product, I recommend Plantation Biodegradable Seed Starter Pots, available from Amazon.com.

Pins

You’ll need an ordinary straight pin to poke tiny holes in the plastic wrap that will be used to form a greenhouse during germination.

Plastic Wrap

Have a roll of clear kitchen plastic wrap ready to cover freshly planted seeds. This creates a greenhouse effect that promotes germination.

Potting Medium

You may purchase potting soil, or an organic seed starter that has been formulated specifically for this purpose. I like this one from Espoma, available on Amazon.com.

This is generally a sterile mixture that minimizes the risk of bacterial contamination and provides beneficial organic matter like humus, peat moss, perlite, and mycorrhizal fungi to promote root growth. It may or may not contain fertilizer.

Espoma Organic Seed Starter Premium Potting Mix

Why not use regular garden soil?

Soil contains organisms that may pose a threat to germination. In nature, some seeds fall on good soil, and others don’t. You want all good soil – with the ominous organisms removed.

(Note that some people sterilize garden soil. This may be done using the sun’s rays, or by cooking – a stinky process. Both are beyond the scope of this article.)

Scissors

You’ll need a sharp pair of scissors that can cut cardboard, to separate individual cells for planting outdoors.
You’ll also need a pair of sewing or cuticle scissors.

Some seed packets say to make a small cut in seeds before planting, to promote germination. Do this with your small scissors.

They will also serve you well when it comes time to thin seedlings. Snipping instead of uprooting seedlings means no disruption to the roots of neighboring sprouts.

Seeds

Be sure to purchase seeds from a reputable grower that have been harvested and packed for the upcoming season.

Annual seeds may be classified in one of three ways: hardy, semi- or half-hardy, or tender.

Hardy annuals can endure a fair amount of frost; some survive winter and grow again the following spring. Semi-hardy varieties may tolerate light frost. Tender plants are too fragile to survive any frost.

Each may be started indoors and later transplanted to the garden per seed packet instructions.

Tablespoon

I find that the delicate work of filling cells with soil is much easier with a tablespoon than with a garden trowel. I recommend sanitizing your spoon with an alcohol swab prior to use.

Tape

Waterproof tape may be needed to secure the plastic wrap underneath the baking pans when making greenhouses. First aid tape or duct tape work fine. You may also use masking tape to label containers.

Terracotta Pots

Terracotta pots are good to have on hand. Sanitize them with a 10% bleach solution and rinse well prior to use.

They’re useful when it’s still too cold for outdoor planting and you want to give seedlings more room to grow.

Toothpicks

Toothpicks are perfect for holding up the plastic wrap during the germination phase, so it doesn’t press against the soil and cause moisture buildup, or restrict airflow.

Tweezers

Tweezers are used to pick up the tiniest of seeds with ease. Sanitize them with an alcohol swab, rinse, and dry before use.

Water

Germination begins when a seed becomes moist, and must stay moist throughout its growth process.

You can mist the soil with a spray bottle, or you can make a mat watering system.

How to Make a Mat Watering System

A mat watering system is one of the best ways to ensure that your plants never go dry. Here’s how to make one:

1. Line an old one- or two-inch tall baking pan with newspaper that has been cut to fit. Use enough sheets to fill the pan to the top.

2. Dampen the newspaper with water to the point of saturation.

3. Place your planted egg cartons on top of the wet newspaper. They will absorb water as needed.

4. Remember to mist or saturate the newspaper daily.

Congrats! You’re really doing this. You’ve got seeds and supplies, and you know how to make a mat watering system.

That’s two thumbs up!

Now let’s get into the seed packets.

Ready or Not

Seeds come in a range of shapes and sizes.

Some, like lobelia, are so small and light, you don’t dare sneeze while you’re trying to separate them under a magnifying glass.

Others are many times larger, like those of the lima bean, a seed that we consume as a vegetable.

Many seeds are ready to plant right out of the packet. As we noted in the supplies section, others need to be chilled, soaked, or scarified before planting to replicate what would have happened to them in nature, had they not been harvested for sale.

When a plant scatters seeds, they tumble about in all kinds of weather, roughing up their outer coatings, and preparing to take in air, water, and nutrients when they sprout in the spring.

Gardeners must do what Mother Nature would have done, to enable the seeds to open and grow.

Be sure to read seed packets thoroughly, and don’t skip chilling, soaking, or scarring, if required.

And now it’s time to plant some seeds!

How to Start Seeds Indoors

With all of your supplies assembled, you’re ready to go.

Here’s what to do:

1. Drainage

Poke several drainage holes in the bottom of each cell of your egg cartons.

2. Fill Cells

Fill each cell three-fourths full of potting medium.

Place a toothpick in the center of each cell.

3. Prepare Mat System

If you are making a mat watering system, stack sheets of newspaper in your baking pans and thoroughly dampen the newspaper.

Place your egg cartons on top. One baking sheet may be able to hold multiple egg cartons.

If you have purchased a capillary mat product, prepare it per manufacturer’s directions.

If you’re going to skip the mat system and use a water bottle mister, simply place your egg cartons on top of baking pans that will serve as drip pans.

4. Plant Seeds

Sow one type of seed per baking pan so watering requirements will be the same for all. Use your tape and marker to label each tray’s contents.

Sow seeds as follows:

For tiny seeds, mist the soil lightly. Use a magnifying glass, and tweezers if necessary, to place two or three seeds in each cell. Do not cover with soil.

For seeds large enough to measure with a standard ruler, plant at a depth equal to the size of the seed, and cover lightly with soil. Planting too deeply may deprive the seeds of oxygen, and they will not germinate.

5. Make a Greenhouse

Start by cutting a piece of plastic wrap the length of each baking pan. (Cut two to cover wide baking pans, and overlap them.)

Use your straight pin to poke about 10 tiny holes in the plastic at random.

Lay the plastic wrap gently on top of the toothpicks to form a greenhouse. Tuck the ends and sides of the plastic firmly underneath each baking pan, taping as needed.

Place it in a bright location out of direct sunlight.

6. Record and Observe

Save your seed packets and start a gardening journal. Note the planting date, and approximately how many days until maturity per package instructions.

As plants grow, write down when they bud, bloom, and bear fruit.

7. Monitor Moisture

If you are using the mat watering system, keep the newspaper saturated.

If you’re using a spray bottle to mist, make sure to keep the soil moist by misting it regularly.

8. Acclimate Sprouts

Once seeds germinate, or sprout, lift the edges of the plastic wrap – but do not remove it for two days.

Allow time for acclimation to the cooler air outside the greenhouse.

9. Move into the Sun

After two days, remove the plastic wrap completely.

Place the baking pans in direct sunlight, away from drafty places like exit doors.

10. Rearrange and Fertilize

Turn the baking pans periodically to prevent sprouts from leaning toward the sun.

Once seeds have germinated, “cotyledons” or seed leaves will soon appear. Above these, the first true leaves will follow.

Miracle-Gro Quick Start Planting and Transplanting Starting Solution

If your potting medium does not already contain fertilizer, now is the time to apply a liquid plant food like Miracle-Gro Starter Plant Fertilizer per manufacturer’s instructions.

Only the Fittest

It’s best to plant more seeds than you really want because it’s rare that all of them will thrive.

A few seeds may simply fail to germinate, never sprouting at all.

Some may grow to the seedling stage, only to succumb to a condition called “damping off,” which makes them to fall over and die.

The best methods for prevention are not overwatering, and using sanitary soil and supplies.

Others may grow spindly and weak, while their neighbors grow tall and strong. This is where you’ve got to get tough.

Ideally, seedlings need an inch of space all to themselves. If you have planted several tiny seeds in one cell, use your tiny scissors to snip away the weaklings at the soil level. This leaves roots intact and neighbors undisturbed.

The healthiest of your seedlings are now ready for the next step – transplanting.

Gearing Up for the Transition: Transplanting

If it’s still cold outside, you may transplant your seedlings, cells and all, into pots.

Use your scissors to separate individual plant cells, and plant each, in its entirety, in a terracotta pot that has been filled to one inch below the top with potting medium. Plant so that the cell’s soil surface is even with the pot’s soil surface.

Continue to provide ample sunlight, keep the soil moist with a mister, and rotate the pot to prevent leaning.

Proceed to the next phase, “hardening off,” when the weather is appropriately warm.

If the weather has warmed sufficiently per your seed package instructions, you do not have to transplant your seedlings into pots. Instead, you may go directly to the next step, “hardening off.”

Acclimating to the Outdoors: Hardening Off

Hardening off your seedlings means giving them time to acclimate to the environment outdoors.

Because they were grown inside, your young plants are in a tender state, unaccustomed to climate conditions like fluctuating temperatures, wind, and rain.

To help them adjust, place your terracotta pots or baking pans outside in a sheltered, sunny spot for a few hours a day. Do this for at least three days.

Then, transplant your new plants to the garden beds you have prepared for them.

And Sow it Goes

Planting couldn’t be easier. Here’s how:

1. Prepare the most robust, well-draining garden bed you can, with beneficial amendments like leaf mulch and compost.

2. For each cell you’re going to plant, make a hole equal to the depth of the cell, and space per seed package instructions.

3. If your seedling cells are in terracotta pots, dislodge the cells and plant them, in their entirety, in the prepared holes. Tamp the soil down and mist lightly.

4. If your seedling cells are still attached and on baking pans, cut the cells apart and plant them accordingly, tamp the soil down, and mist lightly.

5. Continue to water and feed your beautiful new plants per package instructions.

And there you have it!

Tech it Up a Notch

There are all kinds of fun gadgets you may purchase to make seed sowing even easier, like the self-watering seed starting tray with capillary mat described above.

If you fall in love with the notion of growing annuals from seed, you may want to increase your propagation rate with an additional nifty product: a hand-held mini soil blocker that renders egg cartons and cell trays unnecessary, this this one from Ladbrooke.

Ladbrooke Hand-Held Mini Soil Blocker available on Amazon.com

You simply load it with potting medium and press the handle, to create individual soil blocks with depressions in the top for seeds. Then set the soil blocks on a mat watering system, or mist them as needed.

My advice, as always, is to get the hang of the basics first. Then let your imagination run wild!

Embrace the Possibilities

There’s an awesome variety of seeds available today. If you’ve never grown blue potatoes or purple string beans, now’s the time to step out of your comfort zone and cultivate some fun!

Did you know that you can get rare heirloom varieties with scents and flavors that hark back to pioneer days?

Browse a seed catalog today to pick out flowers, herbs, and vegetables for the best growing season you’ve ever had.

What are you waiting for? It’s time to get those seeds started. Happy gardening!

Have you ever started seeds indoors? Did you successfully transplant them to the garden? Tell us your tips and tricks in the comments section below.

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Photo credit: , Ladbrooke, Gardener’s Supply Company, Miracle-Gro, Espoma, and Plantation.

About Nan Schiller

Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!

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