Susie Lawrence Gives Proven Seed Starting Tips

Susie Lawrence is well known by most people who shop at the Muskogee Farmer's Market. For the past 14 years, Lawrence has been there selling cut flowers, herbs and vegetables that she grows from seed at her greenhouse in Braggs.
Lawrence offered her advice for gardeners who want the advantages of growing from seed for their own gardens.

"Get a how-to seed starting book, such as 'Park's Success with Seed' by Ann Reilly or the newest edition by Karen Park Jennings," Lawrence said.

"Park's Success with Seed" 1978 edition sells online for around $5. The 2006 revised edition costs $25.

"Success With Seed" has its own Web site The photographs and information in the 2006 book are duplicated there. On the left side of the site's main page, click on links to find out which seeds require pre-soaking, are easy to grow, are for containers, shady spots, etc. Park's blog at has more seed starting information.

"Also, Johnny's Selected Seed catalog (www. and their seed packages have really good cultural information," Lawrence said.

Johnny's provides growing information for each seed. For example, click on Agastache, Korean Mint. The link describes the plant in detail, then click on Growing Information and you will find: Germinates in seven to 10 days at 68 to 72 degrees. Start indoors six to eight weeks before last frost, cut flowers, dried flowers, no support needed, etc.

Lower cost and wider variety are the primary reasons to grow from seed. For example, a pack of 100 Agastache seeds costs $5. Start a pack of seeds and you can fill a bed with plants that are rarely available in garden centers.

Common plant seeds require air circulation, sterile seed starting mix, moisture and warmth. Many seeds require dark to germinate but home windowsills rarely provide enough light to grow seedlings into healthy transplants. A fluorescent bulb placed a few inches above the sprouted seeds is necessary to prevent pale green leggy starts.

"The most important things to know when you are starting seeds are: whether they need dark or light to germinate; if they need cool temperatures or bottom heat; and, to keep them moist but not wet," Lawrence said.

Seeds that need light to germinate are planted on the top of the soil and seeds that need dark to germinate are planted one-fourth to one-inch deep. Seeds that need light to germinate include: Columbine, Mexican Sunflower, Nicotiana, Oriental poppy, Petunia, Salvia, Sweet Alyssum and Yarrow."

Seeds that need light to germinate can be dusted with a little vermiculite to keep them from drying out," Lawrence said. "Be careful and do not cover the seeds."Seeds that require dark to germinate include: Borage, Coriander, Fennel, Bachelor Buttons, Periwinkle, Phlox, Sweet pea and Verbena. Coleus appears on both dark and light germination lists, depending on variety.

"Larger seeds often benefit from soaking them overnight before planting," Lawrence said. "But, don't let them dry out between soaking and planting."

Seeds that benefit from soaking include: okra, Thrift, Crown Vetch, Mallow, Lantana, Morning Glory, Sweet Peas and Chinese Wisteria. Most seeds germinate best at 70-degree daytime and 65-degree nighttime temperatures but there are exceptions.

Seeds from arctic or mountain regions germinate better in cool soil. Though they will come up with added heat, the plants may be weak.Seeds of plants from the desert or the tropics need warm soil. J L Hudson Seeds catalog ( lists seed-starting soil temperatures as Cold 34 to 45F, Cool 50 to 65F, Warm 65 to 80F and Very Warm 80 to 100F.

Monkshood seeds germinate in melting snow in their native environment so they are soaked in cold water in the refrigerator for two weeks, changing the water daily. Growing plants need soil bacteria and insects to thrive but seeds are more vulnerable. Start with sterile seed starting mix or sterilized soil. Containers can be recycled but should be soaked in a ten-percent chlorine bleach solution and rinsed before using.

"The clear plastic clam shell containers that strawberries and grapes come in are great to start seeds in. Just make sure there are holes cut in the bottom for drainage," she said.

Garden and home improvement stores as well as online retailers sell seed-starting kits that work well. If you use the ones with plastic tops remove the plastic every day for a few hours to provide air circulation and prevent damping off fungal disease. As soon as you see seeds coming up, remove the cover and leave it off.

Damping off disease is caused by too much water and lack of air circulation. Watering seeds by misting keeps them from drowning while preventing them from drying out and dying before they germinate.

A fan running gently in the area of the seedlings keeps the top of the soil dry and strengthens the stems of the plants. When seedlings have a second set of leaves gently brush your hand across them to strengthen the stems.

"Keep a record of the date seeds were started, whether they need light or dark, cool or heat, bloom or harvest dates and general comments to refer to in the future," Lawrence said.


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