Thursday, March 10, 2016

Apocalypse Gardening: The Seedling Update

For the past several years I've been growing my own annuals from seed to guarantee the plants I add to the garden are organically grown and pesticide-free. But I've suddenly realized that everything I need to know about starting seeds I've learned from watching my favorite zombie apocalypse show, The Walking Dead.

1. Only the strong survive. 

While some plants are inherently tougher than others, giving them the conditions they need to develop strong roots and a sturdy stem will create more resilient plants. Babying them will just create weak plants.


My favorite character, Michonne, is tough but tender.
 If she was a plant, she wouldn't be a shrinking violet!



These are seedlings started in January and February. Thanks to recent record setting temperatures, they spent the day outside. 



Beautiful variegated foliage on my 'Frosted Flames Mix' snapdragons.

On warm, breezy days I put the seedlings outside  in a sheltered spot for a few hours to toughen up and soak up the sun. A gentle breeze helps them develop stronger, thicker stems. Keeping them moist will prevent their tender leaves from drying out. If it's too windy, I put them in my cheapo plastic greenhouse. I start this process well before they're ready to begin hardening off.


2. There will be casualties. 

Every seedling isn't going to make it. I pull the ones that are growing weird or crowding out stronger plants and add the newly departed to the worm bin. 




Cuphea like to be a bit dry but it took a while to learn just how dry is too dry so this little guy has a few battle scars.

The cuphea seedlings kept leaning and grew tall and skinny despite being close to the grow lights. I pulled them all and kept the shortest, stockiest plant who is a very happy camper.


As long as you can run faster than a zombie can walk, 
you might be ok. But don't count on it!

3. No excuses and no whining. 

I like my plants the way I like my people:  honest, reliable, easy going, and direct. My plants need to be able to buckle down and grow. No divas allowed! If my basic set up can't make them happy, I feed them to the worms. 




Dahlia 'White Figaro' has the highest germination rate so far.

Seed grown dahlias are very easy to grow. I sowed mine in big pots this year since they quickly become root bound in my drink cups. I'll thin them to three plants per pot.

The woods are full of zombies? Why, yes, I'd love to go for a walk.

4. Organization is vital.

I can remember conversations I had years ago but can't remember if I've eaten breakfast, which is absurd. If I don't write down what I've learned from one year to the next, I might forget and make the same mistake twice. I don't like drama in the seed box so everything is organized by sowing month and then added to a few alphabetical, color coded charts. You can check it out at my So Seedy 2016 page.

How thoughtful of them to label this for us!

5. Grow what makes you happy.

If the plant makes you happy, grow it, grow it, grow it! I direct sowed six different types of rudbeckia for that very reason. I like how open rudbeckia are. What you see is what you get.


I love these Denver Daisies (Rudbeckia hirta 'Denver Daisies') so much, I'm growing them again.

The survivors prefer fresh tomatoes over brains.

6. Be willing to experiment.

A mistake is only a mistake if you haven't learned anything. Plants don't speak English and you're not a mind reader so don't beat yourself up if something dies. Trial and error is a huge part of learning how to grow plants from seed. But grow extras in case your gardening style is a bit apocalyptic.

Let's see if this works....



Grow, seeds! Grow!

I've read gomphrena (globe amaranth) germinates best in the dark and have always covered their seed cups with newspaper. But I've also had them self-sow in my garden and read they germinate best when exposed to light. This year I scattered the seeds on the surface, covered the cups with plastic baggies and never turned the heat mat off. The purple gomphrena germinated in three days!

7. A little love goes a long way!

Every living thing needs to be loved and nurtured. Understanding your plants' needs will give you happier plants, which will make you a happier gardener. 




Centranthus 'Snow Cloud' seedlings

Centranthus needs loose, fast draining soil but watering from above creates soil compaction. To keep my plants happy I water from below and sowed them in extra light soil.


True love is hugging someone who hasn't showered in over two years.

73 comments:

  1. Hooray!! Great to see a post from you again!! Love the graphics!! Now I havent started my own seeds inside for a long time and when I did it was not a triumphant. I love your narrative and one thing I know I'm not tough enough on my plants and am too soft hearted or downright silly and do t weed out the weaklings. I think I empathize too much !!!! Thanks as always for the inspiration, great info and ideas and a good chuckle!

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    1. Thanks! For all the tough love I dole out, there are quite a few "You can do it!" speeches given, as well. My ammi majus is unhappy so I have liquid kelp on the way to give it a boost.

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  2. All great lessons - and you've got me itching to get out and sow more seeds...

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  3. Great advice! I am always so decisive about starting seeds indoors. Usually I direct sow. I have a few seeds growing in my potting shed. May the strong survive!

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    1. Hopefully, there will be less carnage in the potting shed than there is on the Walking Dead. ;o)

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  4. Wonderful post - words for every gardener to live by Tammy. I love growing plants from seed, as you know. More difficult than going to a nursery and picking up a few plants? For sure, but infinitely more rewarding as well.

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    1. It's incredibly rewarding, that's for sure! I like the challenge. :o)

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  5. OMG ... I am going to be "hated" here because I am so NOT a seed grower eeekkkk !
    BUT ? I appreciate the work and love put in by a seed grower and Tammy you have buckets full girl : )
    You gave me a terrific laugh with your adaption of the Walking Dead (of favorite of mine too .. do you watch "Fear the Walking Dead" ? .. there are a bucket load of "dead" shows on but this one is the original series one on my vote.
    AND ? ... you nailed it with true love ... hugging one that close who hasn't showered in two years ... classic love story !!!! hahaha
    Joy .. who showers regularly ! hehehehe

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    1. I've only seen a few minutes of Fear the Walking Dead but what I saw I liked. I don't watch any of the other zombie shows, either but am a huge fan of the Walking Dead. Although, I don't think most people think about gardening when they're watching!

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  6. Great post, Tammy, with some good advice! I usually start lots of plants from seed every year, but I am so behind this year, I'm not sure I'll get to it. I just don't want to have things germinate and then sit languishing because I'm not up for planting them out or potting them up. It is so exciting to see those little seedlings.

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    1. I do love seeing them sprout and then looking at a big plant that I grew from a little seed. It's exciting!

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  7. Tough love, baby. Tough love. Speaking of love - LOVE those rudbeckias! Or rudbeckii(e-i-o)

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    1. Rudbeckia are the best! They're cheerful, resilient, and tough. :o)

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  8. Bad mother left her peas babies out all night when all they were scheduled for was a gentle hour or two. Racked with apprehension I flew out this morning only to find them being very nonchalant about the whole thing-don't fuss mother obviously holds true whatever you are raising.

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  9. Cool post, Tammy :)

    I didn't start any seeds indoors these year (I had other fish to fry), but scattered some outside last autumn. I had given up hope, but now I see small seedlings starting to emerge. (Though a good number of those could be weeds or volunteers Cosmos from last year.)

    Still, Don't Give Up Hope could apply equally to sowing seeds and surviving a zombie apocalypse :P

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    1. It's amazing how tough seeds are. I've even had old seeds grow. Don't Give Up Hope is perfect! I should have added that. :o)

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  10. I'm going with the analogy Tammy and you've sown so much already. I grow annuals and some perennials will work that way too. Trying to find a good organic, pesticide free supplier is not always easy. Plus save your own seed and you really know where you are at. Over here there is a growing movement to grow in peat free compost and bought in annuals are almost always grown in peat. Lovely post, good luck to all of your seedlings!

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    1. I need to find a soil that is peat-less. I checked the brand I use and it's full of peat so I need to use something else.

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  11. Wow! Just look at all those happy seedlings! I would add one more suggestion to your list--don't take a vacation while you're growing seedlings. I made the mistake of putting my husband in charge one year while I flew out to visit my daughter in early May, and I came home to frozen tomatoes:( Last year we did leave for a week in April, but rather than trust them all to my I-don't-garden daughter, my best friend babysat the seedlings at her house, which was a smart move on my part. I've also learned which plants grow well for me and which don't; the stubborn ones don't make it into a seed tray here:)

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    1. Great idea! If I came home to dead seedlings, I'd cry for days. My night phlox and phlox drummondii haven't done anything and I'm getting worried. I'm eager to grow both so I"m hoping they germinate soon.

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  12. Hi Tammy, again like last year, I admire that you are growing so many of your plants from seeds! Your babies look pretty healthy, so your tough love approach seems to work. Looking forward to seeing them planted out in your garden and to your reports about how they are doing.
    Happy Gardening!
    Christina

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  13. I like your approach Tammy. I wish I could start things early but we are too much on the move.
    I start a lot of plants from seed but have to limit myself to the ones that don't take too long to reach maturity.

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    1. I like starting a few plants in January because it helps winter pass quicker if I can hang out with my seedlings. Except for the centranthus, every thing else is an annual so they grow pretty quickly.

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  14. Great post. Thank goodness you have revealed the connections between gardening and fighting zombies. How is it we have all been blind to this? I especially like "There will be casualties." This is gardening, not high tea. I also agree with you about planting what makes us happy, and expecting plants to get by without pampering.

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    1. Exactly!! Hot house darlings don't last long in my garden. I need plants with tenacity and a bit of moxie.

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  15. Variegated snapdragons! I can't wait to see photos of those in your garden. I admire your dedication to seed-starting and I envy your success. I didn't start any seeds inside this year but I did sow quite a few varieties outside. Big mistake! The raccoons and skunks have dug up virtually everything. More than once! They even pulled up chicken wire I (cleverly I thought!) laid over the soil in one raised bed. They're not zombies but they certainly must be the spawn of Satan!

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    1. I'm excited about the snaps, too, but have already lost a few to mystery ailments. They kept wilting and wouldn't perk up regardless of what I did so I pulled them. If I had your evil trash pandas, my garden might be fenced in barbed wire. You need to rig your garden with trapdoors that hide giant clown faces on big springs that can only be triggered by whatever critter peruses your garden every night. Clowns will scare anything!

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  16. Great post, Tammy. That Zombie show makes my anxiety soar so I don't watch it. I love your analogy though. You've inspired me to dig out my seed mats. Time to start my 'Sugary' tomato plants. Have a great weekend.

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    1. I know it's all fake so I watch each episode and then go right to sleep. Happy seed starting!

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  17. A perfect description of growing plants from seed....I have only seen the Walking Dead once with my niece recently.

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    1. I've been watching it since my son gave me a DVD of the first two seasons and now I'm hooked. But I've always loved zombie shows so it was a great gift.

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  18. Your rudbeckia look wonderful! And I hope your snapdragons do well -- they are one of my very favorite flowers, blooming nonstop for 6+ months here. Enjoy your spring! -Beth

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    1. I have some perennial snaps that are growing out of a crack in the patio! Talk about tough!

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  19. Hello Tammy, some great lessons there. We're not doing so much from seed this year while we wait for the planted areas to become established. We've a new border to start but we can't do that and take care of a mass of seeds too so we're preparing the ground first, then the mass-germination will come. I love growing herbaceous perennials from seed. I'm too lazy to do annuals.

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    1. If you ever want any of my perennial blue mist flower seeds, just let me know. I've sent them to England twice! They're really easy to grow - a great ego boost. ;o)

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  20. Jason has stolen the words from my mouth!!! I'm a huge Walking Dead fan, can't get enough of the programme. Daryl has to be my boy!!! Your seedlings look tough and sturdy, it's always good to gradually harden them off. I admire your thining style,I'm a total wuss when it comes to pulling weak seedlings, so many times I pot the lot on and waste space, compost and time!
    We seem to like the same type of people!xxx

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    1. I love Darryl!! He and Carol, another of my favorite characters, have a beautiful friendship. They really understand each other. By giving the pulled seedlings to the worms, I feel less murderous.

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  21. I went to a seed starting class today. It is always interesting to hear what different people have to offer with regard to advice and experience. Starting seeds is a wonderful spring experience. :-)

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    1. If I can grow from seed, any one can! Good luck!

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  22. You know you are a real gardener when you learn important garden facts from the Walking Dead! Thanks for the lesson about things I was dying to know!

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  23. I have a lot to learn about growing things from seed, so I appreciate you sharing the wisdom you've acquired. Trial and error is definitely the path I am on.

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    1. My red salvia is growing greatly! I"m so glad you put up that post!

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  24. I like the line about growing plants that make you happy, "grow it, grow it, grow it"--probably the best thing I've read in a while! Great post, even with the zombies.

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    1. I think the only real rules in gardening are "Do no harm and grow what makes you happy". :o)

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  25. What high seedlings you have Tammy. I started sowing only in march because snow is in my garden till now. My dahlias are smaller than yours :(. Of course your new plants grow strong under sun and warmth. Mine are on windowsill.

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    1. They've been back under the grow lights because our temperatures began to drop. But the grow lights keep them warm and give them the light they need.

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  26. You are much better at starting seeds and being organized about it than I!

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    1. I tend to be quite organized. Not having my seeds organized would leave me twitching and miserable. I'm just like that.....

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  27. This post covers 2 of my main passions in life - zombies and plants! Good advice too.

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  28. Haha, my style of gardening is always rather apocalyptic! And sometimes it is quite the nail-biter as to which ones will survive :) I am so impressed with all the seeds you start! Those variegated snapdragons are so pretty!

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    1. I do love that variegated foliage, too. I assure you there have already been several casualties this year but that's gardening!

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  29. I too am concerned about pesticides. I won't buy or plant anything that isn't safe which means I buy online. Finally this year a local nursery understood my question and has non-treated plants grown from non treated seeds. Last year they didn't know??? Hard for a novice like me learning along the way..... Thank,you for your kind comment about my Dad. .. Michelle

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    1. Finding plants grown without pesticides, even online, can be a challenge. Grieving takes such a long time. Be patient with yourself. :o)

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  30. I've never seen The Walking Dead. Perhaps I should try it since I love shows about the supernatural.

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    1. You'd have to start at the very beginning to understand what's happening. It may be a zombie apocalypse but the true monsters are the other living humans. But it makes for excellent binge watching. :o)

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  31. I am doing a trial of seeds this year, never grown this much before but new house has meant bigger windows with hopefully better light. But I do think the seedlings look rather straggly so I am not sure they get enough light – time will tell! I remember your seed growing from previous years, you have done really well before so repeating what works well for you makes a winner :-)

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    1. Grow lights make all the difference! I'm also starting some begonia and caladium corms, so I really hope it warms up since I need the grow light space.

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    2. Snap!
      I am growing Begonia sutherlandii baby corms for the first time, and yesterday the first one emerged – I feel like a proud mother! But installing grow light is not going to happen, I don’t have a designated area and at the moment I have trays of seedlings spread around in my kitchen and living room, even on the living room floor – just catching the light wherever it is best :-)

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    3. My grow lights hang from stands that can be moved anywhere and don't take up that much room. :o) I once saw someone hang them from the bottom of a table and then put the seed trays on the floor. I thought it was genius!

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  32. I started my first seeds since I was a kid, last week. So excited - several of them have sprouted already. I will remember what you said about not coddling them, and letting them tough it out a little. This will not be easy - I could feel my maternal feelings swell when I saw those tiny little sprouts!

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    1. Hooray for starting seeds! Seedlings need the same tough love our kids do. You'll have stronger plants for it. :o)

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  33. You have a made an otherwise straight forward post into a dramatic tongue-in-cheek one. I chuckled at your creativity at spinning a yarn when I browsed through the post. Congratulations!

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  34. LOL ... this is all so true and totally cracks me up! I tell ya, you are one tough seed starter: no underperformers allowed near your grow lights. :) I've never grown dahlias from seed. Will they flower this year?

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    1. Annual seed grown dahlias are super easy to grow and will bloom like mad all summer. These are the little guys. They only reach about 16 inches in height. Have you ever grown annual linaria? It's super easy and loves cool weather. Just scatter the seeds somewhere well drained and then ignore them. They look like snapdragons.

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  35. Such a fun post but with lots of good advice too. Getting seeds to germinate is a doddle but getting them to flourish afterwards is a nightmare. Either they damp off or you have so many you can' t cope with them all. I can see that grow lights are great, but also I need to watch zombie movies if I am to have any hope of success.

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