Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy is a toxic plant that many campers, cottagers and rural gardeners are familiar with. I myself have been a victim of its rash and blisters and have become quite familiar with those leaflets three and so I do let them be. Only when I began to research Poison Ivy did I realize how little I did know and how far back people have been dealing with the consequences of coming in contact with this plant.

 

History of Poison Ivy

Originally rumored to have come from Europe, Poison Ivy has been in Americas for centuries. In fact, it was even documented as being observed first hand in Bermuda and the Americas by Captain John Smith in his publication Generall Histories of Virginia, New England and the Summer Isles written in 1624. “The poysoned weed is much in shape like our English Ivy, but being but touched, causeth rednesse, itching, and lastly blisters, the which howsoever after a while passe away of themselves without further harme, yet because for the time they are somewhat painfull, it hath got itselfe an ill name, although questionlesse of no ill nature.”

Even in the 1784 First Volume called Memoirs of the American Society of Arts and Science mentioned a plant that “produced inflammations and eruptions”. They then went on to nickname the plant as “poison Ivy”. Since then there have been countless articles, research and trials attempting to control the spread of this toxic plant.

Poison Ivy Plant Classification

Poison Ivy as we know it to be called is really just one of many poisonous plants in the family of Anacardiaceae. In fact the cashew tree whose name forms the basis of this family does have toxic resins in the casing that surrounds the nut itself.

The English word for this family is derived from two Portuguese words which describe how the cashew nut grows… “ana” which means upward and “cardium” which means heart. Originally native to Northern Brazil, the Cashew was taken by the Portuguese to Goa in India around the year 1560-65 and now they are grown in parts of Africa and throughout Southeast Asia.

 

 

Cashew  Apples

Cashew Apples

The cashew nut is really a seed, whose casing, called a cashew apple, contains skin irritating chemicals, one of which is related to the oil;  Urishiol found in poison ivy. In fact, roasting does destroy the compound, but just as with poison ivy, the smoke contains the chemical and inhalation causes severe lung irritations.

Interestingly enough the mango, which is in the same family, has an urushiol oil based allergen that can also cause dermatitis and even anaphylaxis in in some people. The urushiol is present in the mango leaves, stems, skin and sap. Eating unripe, pickled or cooked fruit, the skin of the mango is edible but susceptible people may still get dermatitis of the lips, or the tongue. Generally ripe mangos should be peeled before consumption to avoid the oils. Despite this, further research has provided data stating the during the mango primary ripening season, it is the most common source of plant dermatitis in Hawaii.

Originally Poison Ivy was known as Rhus radicans;  part of a the genus Rhus which contains over 250 species of flowering plants including all varieties of sumacs, poison ivy, and poison oak. Research data has suggested that the Genus be split in to 6, based on redefined plant characteristics. In this case there would be only approximately 35 plants left in the Rhus genus.

Created from further botanical clarification, botanists generally accept the reclassification of Poison Oak, Poison Sumac and Poison Ivy in to the genus Toxicodendron, which is Greek for two words, meaning toxic and tree. All three of these plants contain some version of chemical compounds called pentadecylcatechols or PDC’s. Found in the clear sap of these three plants as well as other members of the Anacardiaceae or Cashew family worldwide, the PDC’s are generally referred to as urushiol.

This term was taken from the Japanese name for a tree there called Toxicodendron  vernicifluum. Despite the toxic chemicals there, the Japanese have used an oxidized form of the tree sap, to produce its famous finish for their lacquer ware.

Poison Ivy Range

This particular toxic plant ranges from Canada to the north down through the United States, areas of Mexico and in to South America. Poison Ivy may be found in these countries up to approximately 1,500 M (4,900 ft) but is extremely common along the edges of wooded areas, in open fields and other undisturbed areas.

While it is recognized as a creeping plant, it also grows bush like. Regardless of the style of growth, poison ivy is considered officially a noxious weed here in Ontario Canada and in the U.S. states of Minnesota and Michigan. Although some varieties  are shade tolerant, all forms of this poison plant prefer sun and in fact Poison Ivy was recently located at my favourite beach!

 

 

Beach-side Poison Ivy warning sign

Beach-side Poison Ivy warning sign

Poison Ivy Forms

Basking in the sun, this shrub form is merely one of the three ways this plant can be found. In fact, the shrub can grow one main stem with side branches, up to over 1 metre (3 ft) tall. Certainly as it is called ivy, given a good support pole, plant or tree, poison Ivy can grow taller than you can imagine. A good example, (Or bad) is the large mass of vines attached to a pine trees at my cottage by hair like brown aerial roots to a height of over 25metres (80 Feet). The last form is as a groundcover of 10-25 cm (4-10inches), as often seen in campgrounds and growing between other native plants along roadsides.

Trillium and poison ivy roadside

Trillium and poison ivy roadside

 

Description

 

Roots

The vine and bush plants have a rhizome root base. This allows the roots and new plants to spread from the subterranean nodes. The aerial roots attach themselves to the plant / object for support and nutrition.

Poison Ivy root runner

Poison Ivy root runner

 

Stems

Poison Ivy stems are woody and grey. On small plants the colour may not be as noticeable, but is definitely seen on bush and trees climbing forms. In fact, the wood on the vines of poison ivy that are climbing up the pine trees at my cottage have a dark grey to reddish tint. Their hair- like roots, which are reddish in colour are also poisonous to humans.

450px-Poison_ivy_vine

 

Leaves

Despite knowing the old saying” leaflets three, let it be”, there are other plants with similar three leaf configuration. Generally there is one leaf and the end and two below that which are side by side. They are normally 10-20 cm (2-4inches) in length, with toothed or lobed edges, although occasionally the edges can be smooth.

Of course when they are small, but still containing urushiol, they begin with two leaves only, so weeding in the front of a rural garden especially can be dangerous if gloves are not worn. In the spring, the new leaves are a reddish green colour, changing to deep green and then yellow, orange and red in the fall before dropping off.

 

 

Flowers

Despite having poison ivy in various locations at my cottage, I had not seen the flowers myself until recently when visiting my favourite beach. In full sun the shrub form had developed 2.5 to 7.5 cm (1-3inch) clusters of the small green flowers. The tiny 5 petal blooms are quite often hidden under the leaves themselves.

 

Poison Ivy flower

Poison Ivy flower

 

Fruit/seeds

Small flowers produce small seeds and these tiny white berries are round, hard and about 0.4 cm (1/8inch) that have ridges in them that make them appear to have segments like a peeled orange. Forming in the fall, the berries contain the seeds of the plant which are spread by the over 50 species of birds that eat them with no ill effects.

 

Poison Ivy Berries/seeds

Poison Ivy Berries/seeds

 

 

Toxicity

It is estimated that 85% of the population is sensitive to the urushiol toxin found in all parts of the poison ivy plant. Skin reactions range from a slight dermatitis called Rhus dermatitis, to blisters. These blisters result from blood vessels somehow developing gaps in response to the chemical in the oil and then fluid leaks through in to the skin.  The blister themselves do not contain the urushiol.  In severe cases these blister cause tissue damage and may need plastic surgery to repair. In extreme situations, anaphylaxis may occur.

If you believe you have bruised the plant and released the oil, wash the affected area immediately with soap and water. Rubbing alcohol will also remove the oil and now specific lotions are available at the drugstore. According to recent testing, there is a compound in crushed Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) that relieve the effects of recent contact with poison ivy in about 85% of people tested. Dermatologists recommend oatmeal baths and baking soda to relieve the itching and there are prescription cortisol based lotions for more severe cases.

Remember that all clothing and even tools need to washed down well in the same way, because the oil remains potent indefinitely and it will re-poison you.  Further risk comes from transfer by other animals and even of burning the plant. Dogs for example have some resistance due to their thick fur and the natural oils there, but can transfer it to their owners’ hands. Smoke from burning any and all parts of this plant contain the oils and can cause serious allergic reactions inside lungs of susceptible people.

Control

Controlling Poison Ivy is a challenge regardless of the affected area, because of its toxic oils. As a result, the number one thing to remember is to wear protective clothing. Cloth or leather gardening gloves are recommended over rubber as according to several sources, the urushiol is soluble in rubber. Even in the garden at the cottage I wear gloves as …surprise…poison ivy alert under the perennials!

 

Poison Ivy in my garden

Poison Ivy in my garden

 

If the poison ivy is a few plants, growing as ground cover, then carefully pulling them out with all the roots works. Then the plant needs to be discarded safely. I have a large plastic pail with a lid, and the smaller pieces go in there to die completely. After a month, once there is no sign of life, I dig a hole about one foot deep and bury them.

When poison ivy is growing on a larger scale, the task of control definitely becomes difficult. One suggestion for large mass plants is covering them over with tarps and soil so no light reaches these and they will die. Of course they need to remain covered for several years before it is safe to assume they are dead.

Shrub forms of poison ivy are very difficult to deal with. If the shrub is not too large, herbicide spray can be used. The newest generation of these sprays interfere in the plants photosynthesis when the leaves are saturated. It is important to wear protective gloves , face shield  and disposable gloves when using these products.

Controlling Poison Ivy is possible, however, even using herbicides that do not leach in to the soil, getting rid of it for good is highly unlikely. In addition, beware of home remedies that are dangerous, such as pouring salt or bleach all over them because the soil is then contaminated and the chemicals can leach in to the water table.

Summary

While contact with poison ivy can have toxic consequences, by wearing gloves in the rural gardens and watching vegetation you are walking through carefully you can minimize your risk. If you live in the country and have dogs, the chances are much higher you may contact it from their coats. In that case, having a knowledge of treatment including rubbing alcohol and lotions would be a good precaution.

 

 

 

Seed planting in Spring and caring for sprouts

 Seed Planting in Spring

Seed planting in spring and caring for the sprouting seedlings are always popular pastimes and certainly April is one month that has Northern Hemisphere gardeners chomping at the bit.

 plant stuff and office 015plant stuff and office 042

 

 

 

 

Whether you had carefully scrutinized seed catalogues for your purchases or chosen them from the countless seed displays in local stores, you will have noticed the huge variety of seeds available!  Perhaps you collected seeds collected from last season’s garden, just as those in the Southern Hemisphere may be doing now as their gardens go dormant as colder weather approaches.

While many seedlings require different germination needs as previously written on this site, no matter  whether gardeners are working in large gardening centres or toiling over their grow lights and window sills, they are all hopeful those conditions have been met.

-_Seedling_-001

 Despite the complex process a seed goes through before the first sprout appears, from large global gardens such as Viceroy’s Palace Garden in India and Tsarskoe Selo Russia, through to massive garden shows like Canada Blooms to our small but priceless gardens, each carefully planted seed carries with it the hope and perspiration of many hands.

Now that seeds are under the lights, or on a sunny window ledge the tricky part begins. Keeping a few simple points in mind should ensure the sprouts you watch daily, will grow tall and healthy awaiting their new home in your garden or planters.

 

plant stuff and office 053

 

POST GERMINATION CARE

While the information on temperature, light and moisture levels seem pretty straightforward, to novice gardens especially, these both require careful monitoring. In addition, fertilizing is important in the right strength, to help ensure healthy hearty plants come from your seed planting in spring.

 

Temperature

If possible, providing a source of gentle warming from beneath is a valuable tool, enabling most seeds to germinate faster as it mimics the warm soil of your garden or planter. Certainly the top of refrigerators were once the site of many seed tray and seedlings, the newer model appliances give off very little heat. However, if they allow good sunlight, this would still be a good location for both new seeds and struggling seedlings.

The temperature requirements of most seeds are on the packages, but generally whether purchased or collected; seeds and seedlings both have minimum temperatures for good growth. Generally this is approximately 65 º F or 18 º C but above 68 º or 20 º is better. In addition, the optimal temperature is one if many pieces of information on the seed packages.

Heated seed tray starting kits are a big help as the try comes with a heating pad designed to warm the seeds from the bottom at an even temperature. Unfortunately on the one I purchased the actual temperature was not listed but the seeds sprout much faster than the comparable one in the small trays beside it.

 

plant stuff and office 028

 

If you live in an older home heated by radiators, covered in a non combustible material, trays could be placed there for warmth but monitor the area regularly so they are not baked instead.

There are several problems that can arise if the temperature needs of the sprouting seedlings are not met. The first problem with lower temperatures is the metabolism of the seed/seedling is slower. In addition, the cooler temperatures combined with generally high moisture levels are good breeding grounds for fungus which may result in the disease or condition know horticultural as damping off.

Lighting

Seeds generally require a good source of light and in fact, some require so much to germinate that the packages suggest little to no coverage of the seeds. In addition, some plants do not grow well if planted early indoors and transplanted. I have had little success transplanting sunflowers and in fact, the package instructions say just to plant in the garden after danger of frost is past. While the root systems may not support the transfer, more often than not the plant’s metabolism requires a high level of natural sunlight, hence straggly plants even when under grow lights.

If you do not have a sunny, no draft location for your seed trays, pots, pellets or whatever you planted in to, perhaps grow lights are for you.  There are many locations from larger big box stores and most most large garden centres  that sell tiered, fluorescent lit plant stands. Another good source to check out are garage sales, or on line used items sites as new tiered light stands are generally quite costly.

 

plant stuff and office 022

 

With the availability of new natural daylight frequency bulbs, often even a desk lamp or shop lighting arrangement can be used for seed planting in spring and  to give seedlings the light boost they need until they can be transitioned to outside areas. Of course there are many home made lighting set ups people have come up with, including adding foil around a light source to keep stray light at a minimum. In addition the increased warmth from the lights also helps with maintaining a good even temperature in the growing area.

To ensure good even lighting, start off with the grow lights approximately 6 inches or 15 cm from the seedlings and raise them as the sprouts grow. If the lights are too high above the greenery, the plants will grow taller and spindly as they try for more lights. In addition the lights should be on 16-18 hours a day to ensure the growth of sturdy  not tall thin plants.  Good, adequate lighting  promotes good leaf formation and strong stems,  and helps prevent  damping off.

Moisture levels

Water levels as any gardener know as crucial to plants, but with seedlings it is a bit tricky. Certainly the peat pellets, coir pots, mini greenhouse, coffee cups and pots that have been carefully planted are being watered regularly, but with the extra light and greenhouse like conditions watering may be a challenge. Of course it is highly recommended to either water via mat watering system or use a spray bottle to keep them seeds moist without disturbing them.

 

Mini Greenhouses on self-wicking water mat

Mini Greenhouses on self-wicking water mat

 

If corms or tuberous plants such as begonias or dahlias are started now to get a jump on the outside growing season, watering with a small container, gently on to the media is best to ensure thorough watering.

Begonia corms    sprouting

Begonia corms
sprouting

 

Possibly the easiest thing for garden novices especially is not drowning the seeds they plant in the spring. While the soil are growing media needs to be moist, try to ensure a consistent source of water by thinking of the seedlings as larger more mature plants. Most plant lovers know they do not need to water a plant every day, but when the soil surface is generally dry. Of course while there are always plants with more exacting water and lighting requirements, this is generally a good run of thumb that should be applied to the younger plant as well.

If there are tray covers on holding in the moisture, check the surface of the media used for possible mould formation. This is also possible when contaminated medium or dirty pots have been re-used. Provided the sprouts are up and growing fine, consider opening any vent on the lid or shifting it to allow more ventilation while maintaining a moist atmosphere over all. If you have rigged up plastic to create a greenhouse effect or are indeed using a greenhouse, remember circulation is vital, so create an opening and consider the use of a fan for good air movement.

Remember not all seeds even of the same plant will sprout at the same time so do not leave the lid on waiting for them all to catch up, so take the lid or dome off when a good percentage have sprouted and mist the rest. While moisture is required, at this point especially, good circulation is a must.

 

striving for better air flow

striving for better air flow

 

Fertilizing

One element often overlooked with seedlings is when and if they need fertilizer. Remember nutrients are important but the seed embryo itself contains all the food the new sprouts will need until they have developed true leaves, not the first ones formed. In fact, according to several expert sources, even mild fertilizer can kill the seedlings by over accelerating their metabolism and burning them.

If the growing medium you used contains no fertilizer, begin weekly feedings with a ¼ strength dilution of fertilizer, whether synthetic or organic. Keep in mind for most plants higher amounts of Phosphorus for good root and plant formation. In addition, if Coir pots or media are used, that coconut fibre product can compete with the new plants of Nitrogen so a more balanced N-P-K (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) ratio is best. After a week or two ½ strength can be used.

Full recommended dosing is not advisable until the plant is larger and ready to be acclimatized in to a cold frame, or shady area on the way to its permanent home. Another option at that point is mixing a granular organic or synthetic slow release fertilizer in to the soil when the seedlings are moved.

Additional Suggestions

There are countless sites, books, garden experts and even gardening forums that offer a variety of information and support and a few are listed below:

www.GardenWeb.com

www.Helpfulgardener.com

 

Final notes:

While to some, planting seeds in the spring is not something they are interested in, others find it very rewarding. To those of you who cannot spare the time but love to garden, remember most garden centres carry basic perennials, annuals, vegetables etc. at a reasonable cost so you too can have a garden of your own without breaking the bank… so whether it be seeds, sprouts, veggies, ferns, flora or fauna…let your garden inspire you…and happy Spring wherever you are!

lily Logo

 

 

 

Germination of seeds

Germination of seeds is certainly a topic in most gardeners’ minds at this time of the year.  In fact, while I was cleaning out my old pots and collecting seeds to plant, my mind wandered to wonder…wondering how the tiny, hard seeds can indeed produce shoots to become wonderful and inspiring plants from something that almost seems dead.

group pf germinating seeds

group of germinating seeds

A seed surely looks lifeless as it displays no obvious signs of life rolling around in its package.  According to several articles in fact even biochemical tests for metabolic processes such as respiration, show very little to indicate whether the seed is alive. Of course for us the seed collectors, we hope the seeds have been stored correctly so they are not dead, but merely dormant.

 

Dormancy

 

While all living seeds are inactive, awaiting hydration, some require specific environmental conditions which generally mean a longer time before germinating.  In the case of home germination of seeds, gardeners need to know what those conditions are, as generally stated on seed packages or by checking out good sources of planting information.

Common vegetable garden seeds generally lack any kind of dormancy and are ready to sprout with some moisture and warm enough temperature for their biochemistry to begin. Many flower seeds and those from wild plants in particular may have deeper forms of dormancy that require further conditions before their growth is triggered.

While we may be familiar with scarifying and stratifying, both terms that describe external treatments   of a seeds outer membrane that some seeds require to leave their dormant state, temperature, and light also play a role before hydration can begin.  There are also physiological factors that signal the end of dormancy, such as plant hormones of Gibberellins which activate plant growth.  Other seeds may have a naturally found coating of Abscisic Acid which prevents germination until environmental conditions have worn this layer off and provided the conditions for germination of those seeds.

Germination

 

Germination can be explained simply with a few brief diagrams, or in great detail with many technical terms. When I bought seeds recently and began to collect pots and planting materials, the gardener and biochemist in me wondered how a few molecules of water and some sun could cause the tiny speck of a seed to ultimately form a large, beautiful plant.

Regardless of its size, each seed contains an embryo and in most cases, a store of food to help that seedling begin its formation.

Avocado seed diagram

Avocado seed diagram

 

A “typical” seed   has fundamental parts:

  • a seed coat
  • a storage area (in this case the endosperm which houses food and genetic material)
  • a dormant embryo

 

The embryo has three parts:

  • the cotyledon (or seed leaf)
  • the epicotyl (becomes the shoot)
  • the radicle (becomes the root)

 

456px-Salix_scouleriana_seed

 

 

 

Physiology of Germination

 

When water penetrates through the seed coat and begins to soften up the hard tissues inside, causing the seed to swell up and then split.  Then water enters even faster and begins to activate the biochemistry of the dormant embryo.   Once such substance activated there is Gibberelli Acid (GA), which is a plant hormone similar to steroids.

Then the GA is carried with the water through out the seed tissues and in to the endosperm until it activates genes inside the seed and a complex DNA/RNA reaction takes place. Basically this “blue print” allows the genetic characteristics of the parent plant to be passed on through the seed. Also as this is going on, the embryo feeds on the starch and sugar found in the endosperm as well.

Under proper conditions, the seed begins to germinate and the embryonic tissues begin to protrude from the seed’s casing in the form of what is called the Radicle. This primary root anchors the seedling in to the ground as well as absorbing more moisture.  From here other growth takes place, but the components vary.

In most plants another shoot emerges, many of which have three parts:

– the embryonic stem called the hypocotyls

– the cotyledons ( first leaves)

– the epicotyls

 

 The hypocotyls

The hypocotyls grows out and lifts the growing seedling up as it becomes the stem of the seedling and carries the cotyledons (embryonic leaves)   clear of the ground.  At this point growth components change depending on the classification .Flowering plants are classified in to two groups, depending on whether they have one or two cotyledons.

The cotyledons

Monocots have only one single shoot or cotyledon after the seed breaks out of the ground. In these plants the roots develop from the stem instead of from the base of the embryo. Included in this group are flowers such as orchids and lilies as well as wheat, onions and corn, asparagus and many other plants and grasses.

 

 

Monocot diagram

Monocot diagram

 

Dicots have two initial leaves or cotyledons that grow from the embryo.  Then the the epicotyls forms the initial stem which holds up the true leaves, while the radicle grows and forms the plant’s the root-system. Most flowering plants found in the garden belong to this classification. Beans are also a dicot.

 

 

Dicots

 

The epicotyls

The epicotyls, which are above the cotyledons and below the plants real leaves, are not found in every plant. Where they are present, they become the plants stem, which rises up and gives way to the plant’ s further  leaf and stem development. The growth of plants is another matter that requires far more complex physiological terminology than this author/gardener can explain.

 

Germination of seeds

 

In addition to Monocot and , Dicot germination there are other forms including but not restricted to Epigeous, Hypogenous and Precocious germination. There are many names, classifications, conditions the seed requires and other complexities that my brain can barely contain!

Despite that, germinating seeds each spring is part of my celebratory ritual and I am glad to have some basic understanding of what really is going on inside each seed.  Based on several definitions, seed germination is said to have occurred when growth of the radicle bursts the seed coat and protrudes as a young root… but to us gardeners the no names matter as the excitement builds when the green shoots poke their heads above the ground and inspire us to bury more seeds for germination!

 

-_Seedling_-001

 

Indoor seed growing

Indoor seed growing is always a joy for many reasons, not the least is that it means winter is nearing an end and spring is not far off. Of course there are many lessons learned each year as we try new seeds and new techniques that often do not yield the results we hoped for. Personally speaking, despite any setbacks…soggy seedlings and all, I still find it so inspiring that so much life, joy, beauty, food and medicinal elements come from such small seed.

There are a few basics that can help the novice who wants to start indoor seed growing and of course there are countless articles in magazine, books and on-line. Please take the following information as a starting point…off you go now, as there are countless seeds to plant.

 

sunflowerseedlings_1

Choosing Seeds:

Before choosing seeds, remember that the soil and lighting conditions of your garden need to be considered, just as you would when purchasing live plants. The light requirement of the plants after germination is generally shown by a symbol on the seed packages of a sun for full sun through to a cloud for full shade.

Seed sources are everywhere from floral departments of large grocery stores, garden centres, hardware stores and even big box department stores. Of course dreaming our way through local seed catalogues is marvelous fun and gives the widest variety of choices for annuals, vegetables and even perennial seeds. In addition, the great photographs, detailed planting and maturity information as well as many new hybrids not available in stores, makes these companies a great source!

 

Getting ready for Spring

Getting ready for Spring

If you belong to a horticultural society or garden club, you are probably able to participate in a seed exchange for a good source of vial seed as well as information on the plants themselves. For those on their own, perhaps others in your neighbourhood have seeds to share or swap. Remember, once you have a hearty plant you love, whether grown from seed or purchased full grown, you will have all the seeds you need for next year’s growing season.

Annuals and vegetables are generally the easiest to start indoors as their germination requirements are quite straight forward. Perennials on the other hand may need stratification or scarification before germination can begin. Stratification is a cold period required to break the seeds dormancy, which can be achieved by a few weeks in the refrigerator before planting, or by planting directly in to the garden bed near the last frost date. Scarification is nicking or sanding through the seeds tough outer coat so the moisture required for germination can get in.

 

Seed Planting

Follow Directions:

Seed packs will contain a great deal of information on the plant itself, including the light requirement as mentioned, and length of time for flowers to bloom or vegetables to harvest. With new varieties of both available, even maturity times have changed so reading the packages is always important.

 

Perennial seed instructions

Perennial seed instructions

Annual seeds best started Outdoors

Annual seeds best started Outdoors

Further information on planting depth, times, light requirements, and growing temperatures are provided to ensure you have optimal germination. In addition, specific details for more challenging seeds would also be listed. An example of this would be for seeds requiring light to germinate so you not cover them with soil, while others might need soaking, scarifying or stratifying. Plants that do not transplant well will also be indicated and these seeds should only be planted outside once the danger of frost is past.

Word of warning: If you plant too early, the seedlings and young plants may become spindly and overgrown, despite good sunlight or strong grow lights!

 

Planting Media:

While regular potting soil can be used but as it can be heavy when wet, soilless mix is recommended. Jiffy pellets, which are peat moss compressed for ease of storage and use are readily available both in kits and often priced per piece. The advantage of these media is their inexpensive prices and that no containers are needed as the mesh around them ensures they retain their shape even in the wet, expanded state.

Jiffy pellet kits are readily available in most types of stores selling seeds as they hope to encourage customers to try their hand at indoor seed growing.  There are many brands of soilless mix available at garden centre and many easy recipes for mixing your own.

As it has now been determined that peat Moss is not an infinitely available resource, grown coconut fibre or compost can be used instead with the addition of compost.

Basic Soilless Potting Mixes              

  • 4-6 parts Sphagnum Peat Moss
  • 1 part Perlite
  • 1 part Vermiculite

OR

  • 4 parts coconut coir
  • 2 parts compost
  • 1 part Vermiculite
  • 1 part perlite

 

Coir is a natural fibrous material extracted  from coconut husks, which are the byproducts of other industries  that use coconuts for food products. In addition to many commercial items manufactured from these harvested husks, they are also used in horticulture.Frequently labelled as Coco Peat , this product is commonly available in gerden cnter as are vermiculite and perlite.

Coir or coconut husk segregation

Coir or coconut husk segregation

 

Coco peat is recommended as a substitute for shagnum moss (peat moss), because it is free of bacteria and fungal spore, and produces good results without the environmental damage caused by peat mining.

Coco peat is usually shipped and sold in compressed forms of bales, briquettes or discs which expand up to more than ten times their weight after  the consummers add water.Unfortunaley while it is a great produce to hold moisture, it is low in nutrients and can compute for nitrogen in the soil,  so when used as a soil additive compost or other slow release fertilizer should be added.

Containers and accessories

There are a wide variety of containers you can use  for indoor seed growing, from small flower pots to any container with drainage holes (cell pack, pots, jiffy pellets, Styrofoam coffee cups, food trays etc.). Remember if reusing containers, to wash with them soap, water and a little bleach first and then rinse them very well to ensure any fungus, bugs or bleach is long gone!

 

old pots before washing

old pots before washing

 

In addition you would need trays to hold those containers, plastic covers or domes to keep the moisture in and labels to ensure plants are properly identified. Of course you can use the clear lids of takeout containers or even clear plastic veggie bags held above the seeds. I have found popsicle sticks wedged down in the corners of a small container works fine and I remove it once the seeds have poked out of the growing media.

Theses sticks can also be used as labels there or if broken off and placed in front of where you will place a specific seed. One drawback to these is that ink can run on the wood. You can buy plastic plant labels or even cut up margarine lids. There are many ways money can be saved and items reused and indoor seed planting is no different.

 

Planting:

Fill the containers with your sterile planting media and moisten the mixture so it feels like a damp sponge about an hour an hour before sowing to let the water penetrate evenly. While wait you can collect all seeds and planting devices as well as go over the seed planting information to ensure you have soaked, scarified or stratified the appropriate seeds.

The most difficult thing about planting seed is getting the right depth especially for the smaller seed. In addition, the smaller seeds almost seem to disappear so for those a planting aid helps. There are small plastic seed holders available that have a tiny opening designed to let small seeds out one or two at a time. For the handy minded person, a small envelope can be sealed and then a tiny hole poked in the end, allowing seeds out.

 

Watering:

Your newly planted seeds need to be watered lightly from the bottom of the pot or by using a spray bottle to ensure the seeds are moistened but not disturbed. When they are moist, cover them with a plastic dome and place them in a warm location to germinate. Other options for speedier germination are placing them on top of the fridge, under grow lights , safely by a warm heat source as they germinate best between 18 – 24°C. In fact, there are temperature controlled heating pads specifically designed for this purpose which are available in kits or individually at most garden centres.

Once germination has take place, make certain the dome or clear plastic cover is unsealed to ensure good ventilation and prevent fungal growth in the soil. Fungal buildup, called damping off can cause seedlings to turn black at soil level and die overnight. In the past I have had this issue when crowding pots and pellets too close together which also blocks good airflow.

Prevention is best, but antifungal products are available, and seedlings could be sprayed with commercial fungicides Mycostop or Captan , but there are healthier herbal remedies you can use. A home remedy that apparently prevents this as well is a one dusting of ground cinnamon on the soil surface.  A Chamomile tea infusion of 3 tea bags soaked for about 20 minutes can be lightly misted over the seedlings.  Garlic as well is known to be a natural fungicide, so mash up several cloves and boil then in about an inch of water and water in to the seedlings once cool.  Of course good spacing and even a fan can ensure better air movement, no matter where you have the seeds growing.

Once the seedlings get an inch or two high, you can remove domes or covers completely, but keep an eye they not get too dry either. Water lightly still, once the soil begins to look dry.

 

Light:

Seedlings love light, so if you only have a few, placing them on a sunny window ledge should do the trick. For many of use with limited light and a seedling urge that is hard to control, grow lights are a good option. There are light stands, small lamps and many fixtures where grow light bulbs can be used instead of regular fluorescent tubes. Again, a much needed field trip to a garden center is a must, at least to research your options!

Grow lights or cool fluorescent lights work best and now there are a few frequency options such as natural, wide range and those designed to simulate sunlight. Ideally optimal amount of light for your seedlings under lights are 16 hours on, 8 off. And the lights should only be 4-6 inches above them to start. Remember, whether your newly sprouted plants are under lights or in a sunny spot, leggy seedling are an indication that the light is inadequate.

Transplanting & Fertilizing:

After the seedlings have formed their second set of leaves they can be gently transplanted in to individual pots. In addition, feeding them a general balanced water soluble fertilizer of 20-20-20 at approximately ¼ strength once a week, is recommended for good growth. Gradually increase the strength over the next few weeks as you prepare to harden the new plants and move them outside.

 

Hardening Off :

 Before you move the young plants in to their final containers, or in to the ground of your garden, they need to adjust to the outside conditions they will call home. This process, which is called our seedlings into containers or the ground outdoors, it is essentially to “hardening off” is a gradual period of acclimatizing which ensures a good survival and growth of the once tiny seedlings.

 

As the light intensity, temperature outdoors, wind etc. is much different than what they were used to inside, begin  by moving the trays and containers out in to a shady, protected area  for a couple of days . Then gradually extending the stay and moving them over a week to ten day period, to where they get their ideal light, soil and temperatures needs.