My first seed catalog arrived on Halloween!!  So far I have received many, many more and they have really helped since the garden is covered with snow and the wind is blowing. The freezing has been later than usual this year so until recently I have had plants in bloom outside which means I am behind in yard clean up.  Some gardeners do very little clean up, leaving any seeds out for the birds and believing the plants will catch the snow to protect any questionably hardy plants. They are correct of course but I have so much of it that if we have a wet spring to keep me out of the garden, I won’t get it done in time to plant the earlies.  I put cages around my hardiness zone 6 plants and fill with compost to keep the ground cold and prevent it from thawing and freezing.  This freezing and thawing, and freezing and thawing, and freezing again sometimes causes the plant to “heave” out of the ground and thus expose the roots.

          Some of our seeds actually do better if planted in the late fall or early winter.  Larkspur is already up and will do fine.  My poppy seeds do better if they freeze and thaw a few times. The Oriental poppies have been up for some time.  Peas and sweet peas need to be planted very early in the spring so the ground should be prepared this fall if possible.  Beets, carrots, and radishes are seeds to be started early so I like to have my seeds all here in January so I can see any special instructions such as refrigeration for several weeks.  If you save your own seeds, you need to know where to keep them during the winter.  So you may need to plant some in pots, and then bury the pots outside so that they can freeze for a certain number of hours. If you are dealing with wild flowers, you may have to wait until late summer to plant.

          There are some seedlings that resent being transplanted. Dill, cucumbers, melons, fennel, poppies, flax, mallows, parsley, and nasturtiums are among these. Most can be done with extra care such as an individual pot so you can plant before the roots get too large and you won’t disturb them in moving.  Usually the seed packets will warn you about this.

          All of the Brassica species (cole crops) can be started early so you get crops before the hot summer days, which they do not like. They can also be planted late in the summer for a fall crop and thus miss the hottest summer days.  These are broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, and turnips. The spring seeds will be better if started inside with soil temperature about 60 degrees F. In spring they do well in soil full of compost in order to drain well.  In a clay soil and a wet spring, your plants are in danger of root rot.  I have never grown Kohlrabi but my neighbor does and brings me one. It looks like a space ship and I like to eat them in raw slices. Also, they go well with a number of dips.  Some people complain about cauliflower. If you don’t get it outside soon enough or there comes a hot spell it may not develop a “head”. Beet seeds are not a seed but a cluster of seeds so keep plenty of room between them for the bulbs to grow.   This last summer I grew “Red Bull”, not for the beets but for the red leaves among my lilies whose stems look a little naked (especially after the rabbits have paid a visit).

          Another thing to know about your seeds is where to plant them. Some like it hot and dry and others like moisture. My “dry” ones I try to plant on the parkway unless they grow too tall. Among the dry ones are most daisies, butterfly weed, cleomes (too tall for the parkway), cosmos (there are short ones and tall ones), gas plant, morning glories (must have something to climb on), gayfeather, evening primrose (my pink one didn’t like where I put it and seeded into the gravel path completely covering it), moss rose, cone flowers, sedum, lambs ears, and the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).

          The most fun about seeds is trying a new kind, a new species. Here it is very important to read the instructions on the packet. Some have to be refrigerated for a period of time, some need soaking overnight, some need to be covered with soil while others require light in order to germinate.  If you saved your own seeds or have some from a previous year, I would do a germination test. To do this, count out ten seeds, place them in a folded, damp paper towel or facial tissue. (You don’t want them standing in water.) Put them in a clear container so they won’t dry out. Keep warm.  After a few days check to see how many sprouted to make sure you will have a good crop.  Some seeds die in the same season if not planted while others may live many years. Seeds need to be kept in a cool, dry place in order to survive. 

          If you save fruit tree seeds from your grandfathers farm or from one that was under your window where you grew up, you may not get the fruit you expect! It may have been a hybrid that was cross pollinated by bees from the neighbor, but it is fun to try. (Bees cover an area of about 2 miles by two miles from the hive, so they visit many trees and plants.) I would put the seed in a pot of soil, water well and then bury outside to get winters cold. You should put wire over the top so squirrels do not disturb. They are good diggers.

          For more information on starting plants from seeds contact your local County Extension Educator, or go on line to “”.                            In the box on the right type in seeds, the name of the plant you want to start, or the plant, tree, shrub, disease, or insect you want information about. There is a good NebGuide (#G2090) on “Vegetable Garden Seed Storage and Germination Requirements”. This NebGuide talks about storing seeds left over, storage life of seeds, ideal germination temperatures, and days to germinate.

          Iowa State University Extension also has a good web site. Go to Type in “Starting Garden Transplants at Home”, or the name of the plant you want to start. “Starting Garden Transplants at Home” (PM874) is a good publication with a chart showing optimum germination temperature, number of days to germination, ideal day growing temperature, and sowing to planting time in weeks.

          Both of these websites are a valuable resource and the avid gardener should bookmark them. In the search box you can type in the name of the plant, tree, shrub, disease, insect, flower, or vegetable you want information about, and a list of publications will appear. You can print them off or download this University based information for free.

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