It’s just so tempting. You stroll through any greenhouse or big box retailer and there are flats of veggies and flowers calling your name. Instant color! Instant garden! Yet, tucked in the corner on a wire rack are rows of seed packets, with only their glossy covers to give you a sense of what may come.
Somewhere in higher profit margins of ready-to-go plants, the art of putting seeds in the ground is waning. These lowly seed packets should not be cast aside, but rather embraced, as seed packets can offer the buyer a great bargain (50 plants for $1.99).
From a gardening standpoint, direct sowing seeds into the earth or containers also offers the gardener a wide variety of plant choices, and eliminates transplant shock; the plants grow right where you want them.
In fact, plants like melons, cucumbers and squashes so dislike being transplanted, that most publications encourage direct sowing.
While many of the popular bedding plants do need to be put in as transplants, others are fast growing, such as zinnias, poppies, cosmos, and marigolds and can be successfully planted from seed outdoors. Read the seed packet carefully to find which plants need to be started indoors and which can be direct sown.
Seeds have a funny way of being tough and delicate at the same time. For best results, plant – according to directions – in rows, holes, or by pushing them into the ground. Make sure the covering soil is fine and loose. A hard, crusted soil will inhibit growth. Water the newly planted seeds gently, with a fine spray, as not to wash the seeds away. You may have to protect the bed from hungry birds or curious chipmunks.
Once you think they are never going to come up, they start poking through. If needed, thin according to directions on the packet, or by the spacing rules outlined on the University of Illinois Extension website. Thinning is critical to the success of plants, too much crowding and everything suffers.
For the faint of heart, take several passes at thinning. First, pluck or snip the plants right next to each other, then – next time – take out the weak ones in between, then to their final spacing.
Soon you will discover the joy of seeing what started as simple seeds becoming a full garden of vegetables and flowers.
• Jim Stendler is a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener for Kane County. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information.