Tips for Germinating Seed

Growing your own plants from seed is so rewarding.

Bachelor Buttons
Bachelor Buttons- easy to grow spring annuals. Plant in the fall!

Planting seeds and watching for them to germinate is one of my favorite aspects of having a plant business. I grow most of my own plants from seed or cuttings. I buy a few small starts in from other growers, but mostly I start all my own stock.

I sell seeds from Botanical Interests for several reasons. One is their seed packs have beautiful artwork depicting the mature plant. Two is their prices are very reasonable. And, three, is they have fabulous Customer Service. Also, they are into seeds and gardening!! They clearly love their business and the seeds they sell to us.

There is lots of support for us sellers on their website, so I’m sharing the information about successful seed germination, below.

Many people I talk to at markets tell me they don’t grow from seed because they’ve never been successful or it takes too long. Well, I can’t argue with the time factor. Growing plants from seed is not for those who thrive on instant gratification. BUT, growing from seed has many rewards.

Personal satisfaction has got to be on the top of the list. Self sufficiency is a close second, especially if you’ve saved the seeds yourself from a previous crop or gotten seeds from another gardener. I have trees in my yard I started from seed! I am more connected to those trees because I started them myself from a small seed.

So! Gather up a few seed packs and try your hand at seed starting. It’s not really that difficult. Yes, there are some particular requirements, but many seeds germinate easily. One thing to remember, though, fresh seed germinates best. So, if you have seed packets hanging around that are over 3 years old, your rate of germination will be very low… and disappointing. Spend a little $$ and get some new seed to assure you have good results.

Most of the varieties in The Herb Cottage seed collection are easy to grow, whether you are looking for herbs, vegetables or flowers. I only charge $2.00 for postage no matter what size or order. So! Let’s get growing this Fall!

 Getting the Best Germination 

Botanical Interests assures that you are getting the highest quality seed in every packet. We buy from reputable suppliers, pre-test all of our seed by an independent laboratory before packing, and only accept seeds that exceed USDA standards. Some seeds are easier to grow than others. It is important to follow all planting recommendations on the back and inside of the packet. Below are some tips to ensure you get the best germination of your Botanical Interests seeds.

Keep moisture consistent – Keep soil damp, and cover with clear plastic or a clear tray until seedlings appear. After the seeds are sown and begin to absorb water, even a short dry period can be detrimental.

Sow at the correct depth – The seed depth measurement listed on the back of the packet is really important! Some seeds need a generous 1″ of soil covering them in order to germinate. Others shouldn’t be covered at all and should only be lightly pressed into the soil. For these, light must reach them to spark germination. It’s also possible to plant too shallow. Some seeds germinate best when they are well covered and in darkness. Generally, the smaller the seed, the more shallow it must be planted.

Prevent pathogens – Every gardener will eventually be hit with ‘damping-off’ fungus. Seeds will rot in the soil and not germinate, or they will sprout thin, spindly stems, then simply fall over and die. This disease can spread rapidly and wipe out an entire flat in a short time. The first step in preventing this unfortunate situation is to use clean pots and trays for planting. If you are re-using containers, be sure to wash them well, then sanitize with a 10% bleach solution (9 parts water, 1 part bleach). Never use garden soil from your yard to start seeds indoors. It will likely contain fungal spores. The best option is sterile seed starting mix from your local garden center.

If you mix your own, some gardeners like to sterilize their soil in the oven at 180-200 degrees F for 30 minutes to kill off any of the fungus. If you try this, be sure to put soil in a shallow flat or pot, no deeper than 4″ and keep covered tightly with aluminum foil while baking. Use a baking thermometer to gauge when soil reaches 180 degrees F, and do not over-bake. NOTE: I have never done this! But, I use new potting medium to start my seeds. 

After sowing seeds, be careful to keep your soil moist but not soggy. If possible, water from below by pouring water into the liner tray or use a flat with a wicking mat. 

Indoors, air circulation is also an important tool in preventing fungus. Place a small fan near your flat and keep it blowing on “low” during the day. Point it near the flat, but not blowing directly on it where it could dry out the soil quickly. Finally, if you have sown a lot of seeds in a small amount of space, be “brutal” and thin out the seedlings when too many germinate. Closely-packed, tiny stems provide the perfect environment for fungal growth.

Light Requirements – Indoors, be sure to keep your fluorescent grow lights on for at least 16 hours a day. This is important as artificial light is not as strong as sunlight, and some seeds need good light exposure to germinate. Conversely, some seeds will only sprout in darkness (as noted on packet). Be sure to cover them to the recommended depth, and turn your grow light on as soon as you see seedlings.

Temperature – Indoors, if your trays are close to a window, be sure to monitor them so they don’t bake in the heat and dry out, or get too cool. Some seeds require a specific temperature range for germination to occur. For example, pepper and tomatoes, although easy to grow in most settings, will do better with a heat mat underneath until they sprout. Conversely, sweet peas will germinate better in a cooler room that is only 55-65 degrees F.

Hard Seed Coat – Some seeds have hard seed coats and require “scarification” for germination to occur(i.e. sweet peas and morning glories). In nature, their hard seed coat helps to keep them viable longer. The fluctuating weather conditions of winter and early spring help to break down this coat naturally. There are two easy methods of playing Mother Nature and “scarifying” them yourself. You can soak them for 24 hours or nick them with a file before sowing to weaken the seed coat. See packet instructions for varieties requiring this extra step.

Stratification for Perennials – Some perennial seeds specifically require the fluctuating winter conditions of cold and moisture to germinate. You can often “trick” them into believing that they have gone through a winter by sowing them in pots with moist soil and placing them in the refrigerator for a few weeks. You may also have good luck by sowing them directly in the ground in the fall, so they can go through natural winter conditions outside. To do this, scatter them on the ground in the place you want them to grow. Follow recommended planting depth and then tamp them in firmly. An occasional watering in that area throughout the winter may be beneficial in dry climates. You may also try sowing them in containers outdoors. Even in cold climates, this can be quite effective. Try using large plastic pots filled with potting soil. Sow your seeds as noted on the packet, then cover with plastic and put them in a protected location. About once a month or more frequently during warmer periods of winter, give them a sprinkle with a watering can. Come spring, you may have a head start on your garden containers!

Fall Gardening- a Joyous Time to be in the Garden

vegmedleySeptember 2015

Gardening magazines and blogs this time of year, the Fall, are telling us how to put the garden to bed, preserve our harvest and settle in for the winter. I admit there’s something very cozy about cleaning up the vegetable, herb and perennial beds, covering them with a nice layer of leaves or mulch and letting them rest until next spring.

However, nothing could be farther from the minds of gardeners in the mild winter regions of the U.S. and elsewhere. This is the time for our lovely cool season herbs and vegetables to flourish. Instead of cleaning up the garden and putting it to bed, for us it’s time to clean up the garden and get it ready for another growing season.


I love the fall planting and growing season. The days are cooler so it’s much less stressful to be in the garden and the types of herbs and vegetables that grow so beautifully are healthy and flavorful, too. Think of broccoli, kale, cabbage, carrots with herbs such as dill, cilantro, fennel, chervil and celery leaf to add flavor and depth to recipes.

Even here in Texas, with our mostly mild winters, I love to do soups and pots of beans during the winter. Our non-air-conditioned kitchen is so much more pleasant than during the summer. And, on cold days, a pot simmering on the stove helps keep our old farmhouse warm.

Planting a fall garden can be done with transplants or by direct seeding. Direct seeding, of course, is more economical, but lots of people like to start with transplants. Finding specific varieties in transplants may be difficult, and starting your own from seed isn’t difficult. But, of course, it’s up to you how you want to start your garden. Root crops- beets, carrots, radishes… are best direct seeded and you’ll almost never see transplants for those.

If you’re planting in an area that was used for a spring and summer garden, you’ll want to add some fertilizer in the form of compost or a dry fertilizer that can be mixed with the soil. It would be helpful to have mulch available to spread around any transplants you use. Direct seeded crops should be allowed to come up a bit before mulching.

Fall crops such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale may attract little green worms that will devour the new leaves.

Cabbage Looper
These little guys can devour a small seedling overnight! Keep a vigilant watch out for them!

These are known as cabbage loopers and are the larva of various moths.

A handy, completely non-toxic way to deal with them is to cover your crops with a spun row cover material. This is a lightweight fabric that lets in light and water, but keeps the moths away from the plants so they cannot lay their eggs on your crops. There are several brands on the market and it’s getting easier to find at many retailers or on-line.

Another way to combat the little buggers is with a product that contains the ingredient Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). Bt is certified for use in organic production and only targets the worms. It destroys the worm as it chews on the leaf. Bt is found in quite a few garden products now in ready-to-use spray, a concentrate that you mix with water or in a powder form. Be sure to follow all directions on the package.

Go ahead and jump into the Fall gardening season with joy! The weather is cooling off, many of the bugs are gone and the crops you can grow now are so nutritious and varied, you’ll never get bored with your harvest.

Continue reading “Fall Gardening- a Joyous Time to be in the Garden”

Growing Perennial Flowers From Seed

Perennials are those plants that last year after year without needing to be reseeded or purchasing new plants. Generally, perennials are divided into 2 groups: evergreen and true perennials.

Echinacea or Cone Flower
Echinacea or Cone Flower

Evergreen varieties are those that don’t freeze down every Winter. These are mostly found in milder Winter areas, although many shrubs and a few flowers will be evergreen in colder climates. And, of course, “Evergreens” like pines, fir, cedars, etc. are called that because they are Ever Green!

In mild Winter areas, there are many evergreen types of flowers and shrubs. They don’t bloom all year, but the plant remains green even when dormant. Some of these bloom in the winter and are dormant in the summer and some are the opposite.

True perennials are flowers that grow and bloom in a particular season, usually the warm weather- spring or summer- and then the growing parts freeze down with the first frost. The frozen parts can be cut down to near the ground to neaten the garden.

If there are seed heads, however, like on some of the smaller sunflower types or Echinacea, aka Cone Flower, those should be left for the birds to feed on in the Winter. They can be cut down in early Spring when the seed heads are empty and new growth is peeking up. These perennials then start new growth in the Spring- early for some, late for others- and grow and flourish for another season.

Perennials can be the backbone of a flower bed because even after the flowers have faded, the plant still sports foliage that fills in during the rest of the season. Perennials are generally slower to grow from seed and may need up to 3 years to create a full size, mature plant.

Here’s an old gardening adage about perennials planted from seed: The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, the third year they leap!

If you’d like to grow perennials from seed, it takes patience. If you plant them in the garden when they’re small you can fill in around them with annuals until they attain their mature size.

Spanish Lavender Plant
Spanish Lavender is a short lived evergreen perennial for me

Four Tips for Perennial Success from Botanical Interests Seeds

  • Sow perennials that do not need *stratification 8 to 10 weeks before your average first fall frost. This allows time for the seed to germinate, and plants to establish a root system large enough to survive the winter.
  • Sow perennials that need stratification after a hard, killing fall frost. This ensures that they will not sprout until the following spring.
  • Mark the spot. Label the area of sown seeds.
  • In a dry winter be sure to water late summer and fall-sown perennial seeds and seedlings just as you do your trees.

Check your Botanical Interests seed packet for specific instructions on stratification! Don’t forget to look inside the seed packet for more information!

*Stratification is the process of helping to break the seed coat of a perennial seed. In nature it is done by the cycles of cold and rain. We can recreate that process ourselves by placing seed in a moist growing medium and placing the seed in the fridge for a few weeks. Then, removing the seed and allowing it to germinate at a warmer temperature. Here’s more than you ever wanted to know about seed stratification!

Here at The Herb Cottage, I don’t sell too many perennial flower varieties. Echinacea or Cone Flower is one I do sell. I sell mostly annuals because they’re so easy from seed. Here’s an article on Fall Seeding of Annuals.

There are some herb varieties that fall under the perennial or evergreen category in mild Winter regions such as rosemary, oregano, parsley- technically a biennial- stevia, Mexican Oregano and a few others that are very slow to germinate.

Rosemary and Oregano Plants
Rosemary and Oregano at The Herb Cottage

They can be successfully planted in the Fall to come up in the early Spring and grow out as the weather warms.

I find it very rewarding to grow perennials from seed because of the time it takes. I feel my patience is greatly rewarded when I have a mature perennial successfully growing that I started from seed!

Sowing Annual Flower Seeds in the Fall

Cosmos, Bright Lights
Cosmos, Bright Lights

Fall is a great time to sow seeds directly in the garden or even a large container. These seeds will be ready to germinate when the temperature and moisture level of the soil is right for each type of seed. Both annuals- those one-season, brightly colored flowers that I love because they then reseed, and perennials- those flowers that grow all season and flower for several weeks at a time- can be planted in the Fall.

Texas Bluebonnets
Texas Bluebonnets

Timing is the key to successful Fall seed sowing. That and remembering that you planted seeds in a spot and don’t go digging around planting something else there!

Follow the directions on the seed packet for how deep to sow. I always sow thickly in the fall so I have a nice full garden later on!


Here are some tips from my seed supplier, Botanical Interests, to help you get started:

Start planning next season now!

Fall-sown annuals will emerge as soon as Mother Nature cooperates, allowing plants to grow larger more quickly and bloom earlier than spring-sown annuals.

If you live in an area with frost and snow, sow the seeds after a killing freeze but before snow (late October, early November in most areas) or you can also sow in late winter between snows. The snow helps bury seeds and insulates them, helping to retain the seeds’ moisture.

Sweet Peas
Sweet Peas

In southern states and other mild winter areas, you can sow in late September for winter bloom. Adding a little sand to the seeds not only helps space seeds more evenly, but also gives you a better visual aid of where you sowed in case you need to water over a dry winter. Don’t forget to mark what and where you sowed with stakes so you don’t accidentally weed out emerging flowers!

And, remember, Botanical Interests seed packets have pictures of the seedlings along with lots of other information on the inside of the package!

So… what can you sow now? Here’s a short list:

  • Bachelor Buttons
  • Cosmos
  • Flax
  • Hyacinth Bean
  • Morning Glory
  • Nasturtium
  • Poppies
  • Sweet Peas
  • Texas Bluebonnets
  • Zinnias

You can find the seeds above at the seed pages here on The Herb Cottage Website. 

Do yourself a big favor and make some time this fall to sow some flower seeds. It’ll save you time, money and work next spring. Growing annuals from seeds is so easy and rewarding. 

And, for successive years… many of the varieties I’ve mentioned will reseed. Just don’t deadhead them until the flower heads have dried. Then, deadhead the spent blooms and distribute the seeds where you want the flowers to grow. OR, put the seeds in an envelope, label them and save then until the fall. Keep the seeds dry and cool. A frost-free refrigerator is perfect!


Heirloom Tomatoes

Originally Published January 2003

A belated Happy New Year to you all (or should I say y’all, as this letter comes from Texas). As the new year begins, we tend to reflect upon our place in the world and, perhaps, our plans for the future. Here at The Herb Cottage, I’ve got a good start on cuttings and seeded crops for the coming season. In the south, the growing season for most vegetables is actually very short because, after a short spring, the weather quickly gets too hot and/or humid for vegetable plants to produce much.

Tomatoes are the #1 vegetable grown in today’s vegetable gardens. And why not? They are a sign of summer, aren’t they? Many people compete with neighbors to see who can raise the first tomato of the season. Personally, my treat is the first BLT sandwich with our own tomatoes and homemade white bread. Usually our lettuce has already bolted for the season by the time the tomatoes are ripe, so I have to settle for store bought lettuce. But, that first bite of the tangy, salty sandwich is heaven to me.

Heirloom and open-pollinated vegetable seedlings are grown by gardeners worldwide because it’s important to be able to save your own seeds, if you so choose. If you grow the same variety from saved seed for several seasons in your garden, most vegetable varieties will become better adapted to your area. If you live in Mississippi, the tomatoes you grow from saved seed will be better adapted to the humid conditions there. If your soil is less than perfect, the varieties you grow from saved seed will do better each year. You can share seed with your neighbors and local gardeners with the knowledge the plants will do extremely well in your area.

Another reason I like the heirloom tomatoes is diversity. Who ever decided tomatoes had to be red? There are delicious and interesting tomatoes of other colors. Plum Lemon, a bright yellow plum tomato, makes golden salsa and sauces with a mild tomato flavor. Garden Peach and Tangerine are yellow and orange varieties of medium size slicers to add interest and a mild taste to a salad to tomato plate. Cherokee Purple is a dark rose color inside and out. The flavor is rich and sweet. Purple Calabash looks like a little purple pumpkin with its deep ridges. Sliced crosswise, the scalloped edges are very decorative.

Cherry tomatoes come in all colors, too, perfect for snacking. Gold Nugget is a sweet, golden type on a somewhat compact vine. Green Grape is a grape-type tomato, very sweet, that stays green even when ripe and grows on a short, sturdy plant. Imagine a bowl filled with Gold Nugget, Green Grape and Isis Candy, a red variety with faint yellow stripes. What a picture! And, so tasty. Continue reading “Heirloom Tomatoes”

A Seedy Tutorial- Growing from seed

Originally Published December 2004

Cold weather and gloomy skies have come to my part of Texas. We’re experiencing the most rainfall in a year than we’ve had in some time. In one way, it’s good because my outdoor watering chores are kept to a minimum. And, since it’s been cloudy a good bit of the time, even the pots in the greenhouse are slow to dry out. In another way, though, the over-abundant rain has caused problems. Around several parts of Texas there has been flooding, causing people to evacuate their homes, and the fields are very wet… too wet to plow and plant with winter crops.

This time of year I turn my focus to planning and planting for spring. Like many of you, I look at the catalogs that come in the mail, dreaming about next year’s crops of flowers, herbs and vegetables. I look for new items that I think would be attractive to my customers or items that compliment the collections I already offer. One thing I’ve noticed is more and more seed companies are offering seedlings for sale of their, presumably, best sellers. I guess they’ve figured out that many people prefer already grown plants to starting their own seeds. After all, I’m in the plant business, too, because I saw a market for plants. I am offering more seeds this year, however, for those of you who would like to grow your own herbs, vegetables and flowers from seed.

Some varieties of plants really do better from seed in your own garden than started plants. One that comes to mind is the sweet pea. Here in the southern U.S., we plant sweet peas in fall or winter and they grow and then bloom in early to mid spring. Those of you in the more northern reaches of the U.S., will plant them as soon as possible after the last frost. The old varieties of sweet peas are grown not only for their lovely flower colors, but also for their spicy or sweet fragrance. I love them in a vase perfuming the house. Continue reading “A Seedy Tutorial- Growing from seed”