Burnett: Growing your own plants from seed

By the middle of May, it should be safe to plant out heat loving plants such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.

  • May. 10, 2014 12:00 p.m.

By the middle of May, it should be safe to plant out heat loving plants such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.

That means if you are starting your own plants from seed, the time is now to do so.

Today’s garden centres carry a considerably better selection of plant material than ever.

Every year, new and exciting varieties are introduced to the market while some are discontinued. The problem is only a small percentage of existing plant varieties in both annuals and perennials are available as bedding out plants.

To get the full-meal deal when it comes to selection, you might want to grow your own. If you have a sunny windowsill, you can do it. Sure, it would be better if you have a heated greenhouse with all the amenities, but it’s amazing what you can do with very minimal equipment and space.


A good source of natural light is very important.  Artificial light can be used to supplement natural light but unless you have very expensive high-pressure sodium, mercury vapour, or metal halide lamps, your seedlings will stretch badly under artificial light.


Requirements for optimum germination vary from species to species although more require warm than cooler temperatures.

A source of bottom heat is a big asset for germination of many species of plants.

Some that really respond well to bottom heat include fibrous begonias, impatiens, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.

You will find though that just about everything you sow does better with some bottom heat until it has sprouted, at which point the heat should be removed to prevent the seedling from getting too soft.


Both the containers and the medium you use must be absolutely clean.

When containers need cleaning wash them with soap and water then dip them in a 10 per cent bleach solution, one part bleach to 10 parts water.

If the medium is questionable, heat in the oven at 150 F for three hours.

This process will pasteurize rather than sterilize so as to not cook the life out of the medium.

Also, keep all your tools clean.


Humidity is quite important when germinating most seeds.

You should have at your disposal a misting nozzle or at least a misting bottle for watering in the early stages and covering the seed tray with a ‘mini greenhouse’ is helpful at the beginning.

Planting depth

A good rule of thumb is to cover the seed only as deep as the thickness of the seed and when in doubt don’t cover at all.

When I plant small seeds I just let them sit on the surface (begonias, lobelias, petunias).

With larger seeds I make a small indentation with the blunt end of a pencil for the seed and when the initial misting takes place the soil sloughs in to cover adequately (cabbage, geraniums, tomatoes).

Growing your own bedding plants from seed is an enjoyable part of gardening.

The main problem is you usually end up with way more plant material than you require. The good thing is most of us have friends and neighbours always willing to take the surplus off our hands.

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