This month is a great time to get your seeds on the go. Get them growing under cover to give them a head start and you can enjoy a garden, balcony or container full of your favourites for months to come. Have you ever stopped to think how it all happens? Seeds are incredible little powerhouses of life. After a plant flowers and attracts its preferred pollinator who in some cases have been flitting from flower to flower, pollination will occur, and the ensuing fruits will mature. I say in some cases as plants are incredibly adept at making sure their seeds are dispersed far and wide. Some are designed to catch on the fur of passing animals where others are surrounded by the tasty, sweet flesh of an attractive fruit which will be consumed by our winged friends and excreted with a ready-made supply of fertilizer to help get it on its way! How do you think brambles pop up in the most random place, they have their juicy fruits to thank for that.
Have you ever noticed the expiry date on the seed packet? Seeds have a finite lifespan and if they are not sown within a certain timeframe they lose what is known as their viability. This is their ability to germinate given the optimum conditions of light, heat and moisture. Mother nature was very clever when she designed seeds giving them a hard outer coating called a testa which protects them from the elements. This includes the acidic conditions found in mammals stomachs to the harsh frost which would weather and crack the hardest of rocks. Back to the holy trinity of heat, light and moisture. Seeds need these in almost equal measures to give them the nod to get growing. Once moisture is present and the temperature is right, the seed will imbibe water which sets in motion the development of the root and shoot. This fascinating chain of events is all the more intriguing as the root and shoot were always inside the seed albeit in a minute form but lay there dormant waiting for their moment to shine. When they get the nod to start growing the root will automatically grow down and the shoot will grow up which is a phenomenon know as geotropism.
Once the first leaves known as the cotyledon emerge the seedling is not out of the woods, so to speak. Each seed comes prepared with a supply of starch to get them on their way but once they emerge that energy source is soon spent. Next, the seedling needs to photosynthesis to create energy to grow and that is where the importance of the light source comes in. Too sunny and the delicate seedling risks getting burnt or dried up. Too little light and the seedling will stretch towards any available light source and become what is referred to as leggy. They can then become top heavy once they start growing their true leaves and fall over. Once they have put on a few pairs of leaves though you are on the road to success.
A trick which I shared with my bemused students this week is to stroke your seedlings. Yes I said stroke and no it's not some spiritual codology to make them grow into kind plants there is some science behind it. The gentle motion of you stroking the burgeoning plants helps to strengthen their stem which will leave them in good stead as they mature to hopefully, healthy bushy plants. What you sow the seeds in matters too. Seeds generally prefer a light compost that is fine in its structure so they can readily emerge and not fight to overturn any stones which may be lying above them. If you are growing seeds at home a sunny windowsill is great, just make sure to keep an eye that the seedlings don't dry out otherwise it's game over. Equally, don't start them off sitting above a radiator as the heat is too extreme although in saying that some seeds do need to reach specific temperatures in order to germinate but these are the general rules.
One other thing to remember is they need to be covered to create a micro-climate which aids germination. This can be in the form of a seed tray covered with a plastic cloche to a much simpler version of a pot covered with a sandwich bag held up with lollypop sticks to create a tent effect. This prevents the plastic from touching the seedlings which could make them collapse but it also prevents airborne pathogens like fungi from gaining direct contact with and infecting the seedlings. Once they have germinated, take the lid off and let them take advantage of the fresh air. It's a little on the early side to sow direct outdoors but it won't be long, April is a good time to start but watch your local frost dates as there is nothing more disheartening than losing seedlings to a late frost. Sowing seeds is such a fun thing to do and I never tire of the sight of newly germinated seedlings. It's a great activity to do with kids and we get pretty flowers!
Hope you all enjoy the mild weather and have nice plans for your gardens this growing season. Feel free to share the newsletter with anyone you think may be interested or send them directly to my site www.hazelproctor.com so they can read all the fun blogs I’ve already posted.
As Always, Happy Gardening Folks!