Nan Starkweather always had admired gerbera daisies but not their price. A glamorous, big-headed, vibrantly colored cutting flower, the daisy can sell for $8 to $10 a stem.
She could grow these, she thought. (But they're really hard.)
She could grow them from seed, in fact, she thought. (Have faith.)
She's a master gardener, for Pete's sake, she thought.
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So this year, Starkweather sprang for a packet of 10 seeds, and much to her amazement, and with a great deal of mothering, eight seedlings came up.
Then, lo, there were 10.
Sheesh, if a master gardener could initially be afraid of trying her hand at gerberas, it is understandable that the rest of us might be a tad intimidated when we open a packet — any packet — and think that this could be, by mid-summer, be either bouquet or banquet.
It helps to know what you're getting into. Marcia Farris, the executive director of The Arboretum on Alumni Drive, says she's done with trying to get lisianthus to grow from (super-invisible) seed because they are super-invisible, they take so long to grow, and ”I don't need 36 of them anyway.“
Still, take heart. There is great joy and great fulfillment in growing plants from seed.
This weekend, Starkweather and other Fayette County master gardeners will begin sowing their vegetable seeds. Soon enough, depending on the weather, they will transplant them at The Arboretum and grow a farm yard full of food that will be contributed to God's Pantry.
You can sow some seeds this weekend, too, to welcome spring — which begins March 20. Here's help.
Professional seed-starting tips from John Michler, owner of Michler's Gardens and Greenhouses
1. This might sound ridiculous, but don't start with itty-bitty seeds like those usually found in herbs (exception: basil). Start with sizable seeds for plants like zinnia, cabbage, marigolds and nasturtium, so you can see where you put them.
2. Buy a finely ground seed starter medium of peat or fine vermiculite. Seeds, especially the small ones, need an easy push through the soil.
3. A general rule of thumb is to plant the seed about as deep as its diameter.
4. Read the back of the seed packet for seed-planting depth, and for whether you need to soak or nick the seeds before planting.
5. Pay careful attention to light requirements (some germinate in light, some in dark, some don't care), soil coverage and temperature after germination.
6. Do not let your seedlings dry out. Don't let them drown, either. Try using a spray bottle to provide a light misting to moisten fledging plants.
7. Don't sow tomatoes or peppers until the University of Kentucky goes on spring break. (This year, that was this week.)
8. If you're planting vegetables, start with the easy ones — the ones that like to come up — including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes and peppers.
9. Pay attention to temperature needs.
Michler's heat mat is at 70 degrees for germination. After that, lettuce and other cool-weather growers are separated and placed in cooler environments, with nighttime temperatures set at 50 degrees. He puts tomatoes and other warm-weather growers in warmer environments, with nighttime temps of 60 degrees.
10. Wait until the first true leaves open before transferring them from the seed-starting medium to the grow pot or the garden.
Seeds that can make you cry
1. Some perennials grown from seed tend to have a long lead time before germinating and that can frustrate those who are used to seeing zinnias or cosmos emerge in just three days. (Rosemary can take three months to germinate, says Shari Dutton, staff horticulturist at the Arboretum.)
2. Wildflowers have a tendency to come up when they want to, and some have mechanisms that require that they reach certain low temperatures before germination.
3. Old seeds. Seeds have a use-by date for a reason. Use them by those dates.
If you've failed for any reason, here are a few suggestions:
1. Start over. Seeds are cheap.
2. Don't reuse the seed-starting medium. Buy new. Any number of things could have caused the failure. One of them could have been disease in the soil.
3. Pay close attention to the germination. Spindly growth is caused by waiting too long after the seeds have emerged to get them to the light. Your job is to help them to get to the light so they don't have to stretch to find it. Sometimes waiting a few hours to get your seedling to light can weaken it irreparably. Consider buying a grow light.