Success with Seeds and Clones
Generally speaking, the best advice for starting seeds is to follow the growing instructions listed on each seed packet. If you don't have the packet, it's worth your time to do some quick research on any seeds you're unfamiliar with. Likewise, if you're going to transplant seedlings outdoors, you should also confirm the frost date in your area to know when to start different flowers and veggies indoors.
Before you do anything, keep in mind that the age and quality of your seed stock matters. Seeds should always be stored away from heat, direct sunlight, and fluctuating temperatures in dark, dry, airtight containers. In general, seeds can last between one and five years with two to three years being the average
When using older seed stock, always examine it carefully for signs of mold, insect infestation, or other damage first. If you opt to buy new seeds, you can maximize your success by choosing varieties which have been bred for insect- and disease-resistance. It's also a good idea to look for seeds that have been inoculated with active, beneficial fungi or bacteria to protect against common plant diseases. Two common inoculates are mycorrhizal fungi and, in the case of many beans and other legumes, rhizobia bacteria.
How you treat certain seeds is often just as important as when and how you plant them. For instance, soaking seeds overnight in water or a very mild sea kelp solution can help to soften and loosen tough coats, and stimulate germination. For this technique, remove your seeds from the solution once the 24-hour period has expired and plant your seeds immediately thereafter. Scuffing or nicking the outside of a seed's hard exterior is another pre-treatment to consider, particularly on stubborn sprouting seeds. To do this, very delicately chip each seed coat with light sandpaper or a small knife. The wearing down of this outer coat helps ensure germination by exposing the seed embryo to oxygen and moisture.
A surprising number of seeds also benefit from "stratification"-a "cooling off" period in the refrigerator. Some of them include asters, black-eyed Susan’s, butterfly weed, bleeding hearts, columbine, larkspur, lavender, purple coneflower, snapdragons, and pansies. Just mix your seeds with a dampened mixture of perlite, peat, or vermiculite, place in a plastic baggie, and seal, keeping it in the refrigerator for four to 12 weeks before planting.
Plants rooted from cuttings, also known as "clones", are the preferred means of propagation by many gardeners particularly if they've encountered difficulties starting from seed or if they want to be certain the offspring exhibits the identical traits of the parent plant. Cloning is simple provided only a sharp, sterile utensil is used to make the cut. Cloning solutions, gels and powders like Olivia's Cloning Solution, Rootech Gel, and Clonex Cloning Solution are common pretreatment options that help to seal the cut.
Aside from viable seeds and cuttings, you'll need containers and a sterile, inert medium to get growing. If you're new to propagation, the Sunleaves Float & Grow is a good kit to try. To use the Float & Grow which includes a standard-sized tray fitted with a reusable Styrofoam insert and 55 absorbent grow plugs, you wet the plugs, plant one seed or clone per plug and fill the tray with about an inch of water. As moisture evaporates, the grow plugs soak up the tray's excess water. To keep seedlings and cuttings moist, you need only periodically add water to the tray. Depending on the seed or clone type, hydroponics gardeners can also float the Styrofoam insert in their reservoir to wick water directly.
Rather start your seeds in standard plastic, peat, or coir fiber pots? In that case, you can opt for a professional potting mix like Fox Farm's Light Warrior or create your own blend of perlite and vermiculite. For most seeds, germination is triggered by the right combination of warmth and moisture, but for many, light is also essential. Don't bury these seeds deep beneath your growing medium, and do make sure to afford them plenty of light from a sunny windowsill or a compact fluorescent fixture such as the Sunleaves Comet. Once seeds have sprouted, a minimum of 8 to 10 hours of light is
After you've picked, prepared, and planted your seeds and clones, make sure they have optimal temperature and humidity levels. Most seeds germinate at a temperature of 70 to 80 degrees F. You can speed germination by placing a heated propagation mat underneath your growing medium. Good seedling heat mats are flexible, UL listed, and water-resistant. To use one, simply place seed flats directly on top of the mat and plug the mat's power cord into a power source. Root-zone temperature should be higher than ambient room temperature and thermostats like the MatStat are available to help monitor and maintain correct temperatures. Because mats typically raise the temperature of the growing medium to about 15 degrees above room temperature, the growth of root rot or "damping off" disease is also greatly inhibited. To make sure your seedlings don't get too hot, avoid placing heating mats directly on carpet or other insulating materials. Also, because heat mats can speed evaporation, make sure to keep your growing medium moist.
Plastic covers and humidity domes are also helpful for trapping heat and moisture within your growing medium, but be careful. Covered seedlings can get too much moisture which can lead to fungal problems, such as pythium, so you'll want to uncover them periodically or place a few small holes in the cover so that excess moisture can escape. Once seedlings and cuttings have their true leaves, you should remove the humidity dome and stir the air with an oscillating fan, which serves to strengthen plant stems.
If you intend to transplant your starts outdoors, remember the final step: acclimation. As soon as the risk for frost is greatly diminished, take your seedlings to an outdoor, protected area for a few hours at a time, gradually increasing their exposure to the elements over a one- to two-week period.