Thoughts on Planting
Posted: March 10, 2010
With spring on it's way, my winter addled mind wants to jump the gun, throw some seeds and soil into a pot, and watch my little plants grow. This early spring period offers the opportunity to brush up on planting do's and don'ts. Some things I read about I already know, while others are new to me and I believe they will interest you too.
First and foremost are methods to break seed dormancy. Its not something I think about much, but the the more I read about planting, the more I realize that you can increase seed viability by doing a few simple things before planting. This is especially important to learn if you, like me, are starting to save seeds and need to know that seeds have specific cues that start their growing cycles. There are two types of dormancy, physical and chemical. Physical dormancy is the physical condition of the seed, such as a hard seed coat and a grower can use scarification, soaking, or exposure to soil microorganisms, to break this dormancy. Methods that break physical dormancy are species specific. Chemical dormancy breaks when the environmental conditions are just right for the seed to grow. Conditions can be as simple as exposure to freezing conditions that replicate a winter frost or as involved as exposing the seed to fire. These methods break the internal chemical/metabolic conditions which prevent seed germination. Manipulating dormancy allows a you to increase the seed viability and a quick check on seed viability chart will tell you how long and in what conditions seeds remain viable.
Next on my list is the environment a seed needs to grow into a healthy, productive plant. I know that seeds need a warm, moist environment to germinate and I recently learned how specific the temperature requirements are for each crop. Furthermore in the past I assumed that by keeping my seeds moist I encouraged growth. I now know that blindly warming and watering my seeds could spell their doom. 'Damping off' is a fungal pathogen that thrives in the same moist, humid conditions that a growing plant needs. You can decrease your risk of 'damping off' by providing good air circulation and temperature fluctuations. Although plants require water to grow, you can prevent disease if you provide smaller amounts of water with short intervals and use wet-dry periods. Infrequent, large amounts of water causes desiccation of the propagation media and plant roots. A little attention to moisture, heat, and air circulation results in healthy plants and fewer problems.
Finally, soil media and transplanting technique deserve attention. Cleanliness of your propagation facilities, including tools and containers, goes a long way. It is important to disinfect tools, surfaces, containers, etc. that will come into contact with plants, as they can and do harbor plant pathogens. This is also something to consider when you decide which propagation media you will use. Using a sterile media or a biologically active, disease-suppressing media ensures that your media does not have soil borne bacteria/fungi. If you plan to use transplants you need to know how depth affects the plant. A common misconception is to plant at the level where roots meet stem. This is not true for all crops. Transplant deep enough to cover the cotyledons or seed leaves mature faster and experience less damage. A well known example is the tomato plant which will grow more roots along the stem when part of it is burried.
I hope this information helps you as you begin your seeding program. I learned through reading and writing this blog the sheer amount you stand to gain or lose based on a few things you do in the early spring. Happy growing.