Plant Seeds Indoors or Not - That is the Question.

As I write I have a stack of 26 different garden catalogs filled with pictures or sketches of plants to purchase via mail order /span> grow from seed.

I try to sit down with each catalog as it comes and to choose seeds and difficult-to-find plants. I wrote down the page numbers and the plants that seemed desirable at that moment. I waited until the end of January, compiled my lists and then sorted out what I really can grow and afford. I want everything. I am convinced that gardening is an obsession but that's not a bad thing,is it?

Let's think about seeds. What is a seed? It is an embryonic plant containing a stem, root, and leaves and usually a food supply to get the young plant started until it can continue existence on its own. I am constantly amazed by the fact that the size of a seed and the size of the full grown plant have little relationship to each other but seed size within a species is frequently important to survival. The smallest seed in the world is produced by some of the epiphytic tropical orchids ...each seed weighs about 0.000035 ounce! This is in some degree due to the fact that the seed contains no endosperm or food for the newly developing plant. To compensate for this lack of nourishment orchids develop a relationship with a fungus.

The largest seed in the world comes from the coco-de-mer palm. One seed is about a foot long and 3 feet around...it weighs about 40 pounds! You might think that such a big seed had a big embryo (the young plant that emerges from the seed) but it doesn't. This seed is mostly endosperm.

Now you are thinking “What does all this have to do with me and my garden?” Nothing! But isn't it wonderful just to know about these things?

Is it better to grow all your annuals from seed? This depends on your setup, time, finances, dedication, and the number of plants needed. If you need only a tray of a commonly grown and easy to purchase marigold it is probably a waste of your time to grow it from seed.

Is it possible to obtain newly developed varieties from seed? This depends. For example this year Burpee's is featuring Southern Charm Hybrid verbascum, a Burpee exclusive. I bought it. Some new varieties are now reproduced commercially by cuttings. These you will need to purchase.

Can you plant seeds from hybrid plants (fruits, vegetables, or flowers) from your last year's garden?You can plant them but the results are not predictable. Simply put, you will seldom if ever, get plants with exactly the same characteristics as the plant producing the fruit (seed). Heirloom plants on the other hand are open pollinated. With these of course you have a much better chance of repeated success.

Should all your seeds be started indoors? Is there any advantage to it? This depends on the species of plant. For example, it is easier to direct sow large seeds such as sunflowers and nasturtiums right into the garden. There is little advantage to starting them indoors. Nicotiana (flowering tobacco) has small seeds but it grows quite nicely in the garden where the seeds are cast. Many herbs especially those in the carrot family such as dill,chervil,caraway,and coriander (cilantro),don't like to be transplanted and should also be direct seeded. Just be sure that the soil is prepared and warm. You will know when the time is right as the annual weeds will begin growing around the same time! (You will of course pull them out to reduce competition.) Tiny seeds sometimes get washed away or fall into soil crevasses which are too deep. They benefit from being started indoors. Just mix them with your soilless medium and plant...no need to plant the seeds singly! Among the many plants that I start indoors are the amaranthus Love Lies Bleeding as the seedlings are such tiny little things.

You can also go to your local nursery to purchase seeds from major companies or participate in seed exchanges. Just be sure to read the excellent advice on the seed envelopes. Keep track of your successes and your failures. That is part of the gardening experience as well.

You may be thinking that all this sounds like too much effort and you may be right. I think that whether to start plants from seed is a very personal decision.