Monday, November 27, 2006

Starting Perennials from Seeds

By Christina VanGinkel

Garden nurseries were not always as convenient to find as they are in today's world. Not that far in the past, the closest thing to a nursery at all was likely your neighbor who had a green thumb and was willing to share both their garden seedlings and their knowledge, or possibly a few racks of plants at the hardware store downtown. So where did everyone get all their beautiful flowers, even their perennials, if they did not have the luxury of buying them? They used their gardening skills to start their own plants from the seeds they harvested, or were given, including their perennials.

This often took much more planning than if they could just pick up these same plants in a store or nursery as we often do today. Planted in an inappropriate spot could mean the death of the plant and doing without, as it was not so easy to replace a plant as it is today. It also took much less money than it does the way so many gardeners buy their perennials today. Just imagine the cost of a couple perennial plants, then times that by how many the average small garden has in it. If you happen to have the luxury of living on a couple of acres and have a large garden or even two on the property, the cost savings quickly multiply and makes one realize just how cost effective growing your own perennials from seedlings you start yourself can be. It then becomes apparent why so many gardeners still begin their own plants whenever they can.

Add to this scenario the fact that with perennials, while you will still have upkeep and will need to replace plants occasionally, after you have your garden started, you will have less work each spring as far as planting goes.

To grow your own perennials from seeds, you will need to harvest them from your existing plants or from those of willing friends and family, or buy the seeds (much less expensive than buying the plants).

Once you have the seeds for the perennials you would like to grow, you should plan where in your garden you are going to place the plants to grow and flourish. While you can certainly transplant them to other places later on, knowing where in your garden you want them to live can save you the step of transplanting them later on. As many perennials have touchy root systems, not taking well to being dug up and transplanted, this just makes sense. If you do wish to begin your seeds in containers and place them into your garden in their desired spots later, (or if you plan to share your perennial seedlings with others) be kind to their root systems and start them in peat pots, which you can pop right into the ground with the seedlings intact. Just be sure to tear the pot apart a bit when you plant. I soak mine in water, peat pot, and all, and then as I place them in the ground, I tear them apart just a bit, but not so much that I tear apart the root structure they hold.

You will also need to determine the optimum planting time, be it spring or later on in the summer. As different perennials have different times, where they are more apt to germinate naturally, this is important to know. A bit of research on the individual types of plants will let you know when this time is.

Some perennial seeds require going through a process called scarification. This term refers to the need for the seeds to be broken open to allow germination. Different gardeners have different theories on how to help this process along when growing some perennials from seeds. My mother, who had what many refer to as a green thumb, always soaked her seeds in a cup of strong black tea for a few days before planting. This softened the seeds shell-like covers and allowed them, to germinate.

From greenhouses to fertilizers and even seed starting kits where everything you might need has been assembled together in one convenient kit, starting your own seedlings, even perennials, is not as difficult as you might think. Different plants will of course bring you more success than others will, but trial and error is often a gardener's best friend. If you find one technique works better for you than something else does that you read or were told, then do it your own way.

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