Be­lieve in seeds: They’ll ex­pand your gar­den­ing hori­zons

The Progress-Index - At Home - - GARDENING - By Lee Re­ich

"Plant seeds" may seem like an inane sug­ges­tion for a gar­den­ing col­umn. But I'm se­ri­ous. More and more peo­ple who gar­den th­ese days put plants rather than seeds into the ground.

In the old days, the ar­rival of warm weather would have us all drop­ping bean, beet, marigold and zinnia seeds into moist soil, then ea­gerly wait­ing for those first green sprouts. Go into any gar­den cen­ter th­ese days, though, and you can buy "cell packs" of ro­bust bean, beet, marigold and zinnia plants. And th­ese are what many folks are plant­ing.

Buy­ing trans­plants does, of course, give you a jump on the sea­son. You'll taste your first beans and smell your first marigolds sooner if you set out plants that were jump started in a green­house. And many an­nu­als — toma­toes, pep­pers, im­pa­tiens and pan­sies, to name a few — must have growth well un­der­way in spring if they are go­ing to put on a rea­son­able per­for­mance in sum­mer. But a lot of plants — in­clud­ing nas­tur­tiums, bach­e­lor but­tons, corn and peas — don't re­ally need that jump start.

THE RE­WARDS OF HAV­ING SOME FAITH

The main rea­son fewer peo­ple plant seeds th­ese days is, I think, more se­ri­ous: a lack of faith. Peo­ple have trou­ble be­liev­ing that dry, ap­par­ently life­less specks the size of a comma or this let­ter "o'' will grow into fat, juicy car­rot roots or 6-foot-high hol­ly­hock tow­ers.

Once you have the faith and plant seeds, how­ever, you reap prac­ti­cal benefits. Most ob­vi­ously, seeds are cheap. For the same price as a sin­gle del­phinium plant you could buy enough seeds to cre­ate a gar­den full of del­phini­ums. Most flow­ers look bet­ter planted in abun­dance any­way.

With some veg­eta­bles, it's just not prac­ti­cal to grow trans­plants. Beans, for in­stance: At the rec­om­mended spacing of 2 inches apart, a mod­est, 10-foot row of beans would re­quire about 60 plants, which is hardly a packet of bean seeds. So a cell pack of six bean plants, even a few cell packs, won't put many beans on your plate.

An­other plus for plant­ing seeds is the much greater se­lec­tion of­fered. Rather than plant­ing Ten­der­crop, the one bean va­ri­ety you might find as trans­plants, you could plant seeds of Blue Lake or Ken­tucky Won­der or any one of a num­ber of other, bet­ter va­ri­eties avail­able from the same estab­lish­ment that sells you the trans­plants.

Con­necti­cut Yan­kee is the del­phinium va­ri­ety that you'll prob­a­bly find pot­ted up, and plants might be white, laven­der or blue. If you wanted only white del­phini­ums, sow a packet of Gala­had seeds; for only dark blue flow­ers, sow a packet of Black Knight.

THE WON­DERS OF SEEDS

By cir­cum­vent­ing that seed-sow­ing step, you miss out on one of the great things about gar­den­ing. As won­drous as gar­den­ing is, it is more so when you see a seed sprout.

So how do you get the faith that plants will grow from seed? Re­al­ize, first of all, that over 3 mil­lion years of evo­lu­tion — the amount of time seed plants have been around — have been geared to mak­ing seeds bet­ter and bet­ter at sprout­ing. If that doesn't con­vince you, then just plant ex­tra seeds wher­ever you want plants. Seeds are cheap, and you can re­move ex­cess plants once they're all up and grow­ing.

Suc­cess is fur­ther as­sured by start­ing with good seeds, plant­ing them in soil that is moist and well aer­ated, and tim­ing your plant­ings ac­cord­ingly.

Most of the seeds that gar­den­ers grow — or used to grow — are of veg­eta­bles, and an­nual or peren­nial flow­ers. Once you be­lieve in seeds, there's no rea­son not to set your sights higher.

A few years ago, in fall, I dropped some pea-size seeds into soil in flower pots. When the plants were a cou­ple of feet high, I trans­planted them into the ground, and those plants are now about 7 feet tall. Th­ese sprites will one day be­come full-size black tu­pelo (Nyssa syl­vat­ica) trees, soar­ing over 50 feet tall, with leaves that are among the first to color up — to an in­tense scar­let — in fall. And all from seeds!

LEE RE­ICH VIA AP

This Mon­day, May 4, 2015 photo shows pea plant seedlings on dis­play in New Paltz, N.Y. A lot of “six-packs” of pea trans­plants would be needed for a row of peas, so just plant seeds in­stead.

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