Q. After receiving several seed catalogs recently, I have decided to buy seeds and grow my plants instead of buying them at garden centers. How should I go about this?
A. Your decision to grow your own plants from seeds is a great way to get started on the 2018 gardening year. Many annual plants can be started indoors and be ready for transplant once the threat of frost has passed.
Some seeds are quicker to sprout than others. Vegetables such as radishes and beans, as well as herbs such as chives, dill, and cilantro, are speedy sprouts. Flowering plants such as marigold, zinnia and black-eyed Susan also fit into this category.
A great way to start large quantities of easy-to-grow annuals is by utilizing a few common household items: high wet-strength, plain white paper towels; clear plastic bags and permanent markers.
Begin with one perforated section of paper towel. Fold it in half three times in alternating directions to create a 2½ by 4½ inch rectangular pad. Use the permanent marker to label the plastic bag with the name of the seed, sowing date and germination information. Evenly moisten the pad with water so that it is not dripping wet. Open the final fold of the pad and sprinkle seeds on one side. Close the fold and place the pad inside the plastic bag. Some air needs to get inside the bag so partially zip it up or loosely fold over the end of the bag. Several pads can be stacked in each bag.
Most seeds germinate between a temperature range of 40 to 70 degrees. Choose a place for your seed bags where temperatures are consistently warm and safe from heavy traffic or pets. Avoid spots with cold drafts or excess heat. The towels should be inspected for germination at least once every five to seven days until they sprout. Check for fungal activity during your inspection. If there is a lot of fuzz, discoloration or smell to the towel, use a dull knife blade to transfer your live seeds to a freshly moistened towel.
Once you notice signs of spouting, such as the seed coat splitting, or a bit of root peeking out, use tweezers to move them to pots or growing medium. If you leave the seedlings too long, they may root into the paper, and your job of transferring them will become harder.
When your seedlings have been transferred, you need to get them ready for the big outdoors. "Hardening off" is the process of gradually introducing them to outside conditions. If you take them to a protected environment for one hour the first day, then add another hour each day for a week, by the end of the week the seedlings should be ready for transplant.
For more information, visit these websites:
-- Mary Moisand
• Provided by Master Gardeners through the Master Gardener Answer Desk, Friendship Park Conservatory, Des Plaines, and University of Illinois Extension, North Cook Branch Office, Arlington Heights. Call (847) 298-3502 on Wednesdays or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit web.extension.illinois.edu/mg.