This portion tells you about starting herbs from seed, how to do it either in containers or directly outdoors, and what kinds of herbs you maybe don’t want to start from seed that can be bought already establishes and then transplanted.
To Seed or Not to Seed?
To seed or transplant? That is the question! I say do both. This portion of our “Garden Grow” series will address how to seed in and out of ground.
Always get the freshest seed to sow herbs from seed. The date and best time for use when selecting seeds is usually printed right on the seed pack. Some herbs are better started from seeds while others are better started from a cutting off an existing plant, or a starter plant you get from a farm or nursery which can be transplanted. Herb recommendations for both seed starting and transplanting will be provided here.
When starting plants from seed, some require light and some do not for germination, this information is usually also included on the seed pack. To start a seed indoors, March is a great time to begin; perhaps even earlier if you can create a conducive environment once the seeds have sprouted. Seeds can be sown directly into pots or other containers however, use poor plain soil for germinating that has sand mixed in so it is thin and easy to penetrate when the first roots begin to grow; this is important. The soil will of course be different when it is time to transplant the seedlings into larger containers or in the ground. For light germinating seeds, the best thing to do is to sprinkle 1 to 3 seeds on top of the soil and mist with a mister so that too strong of a spray of water does not bury seed too far under the soil. Keep the seeds moist and in a warm, well lit area but not under direct hot lights- bright overall light is just fine. You can also cover the seed with a piece of white paper just to protect them a bit but I have never found this necessary. For seeds that require darkness to germinate, simply sow them onto the prepared soil, and then sprinkle a bit more soil over- about 1/8 inch- and then mist to moisten and keep them moist.
Regardless of whether you want to repot the seedlings in a larger container later or directly in the ground, one very helpful tool is to use “peat pots” which can be replanted right into the new container or area of your choosing. Peat pots contain extra nutrients and eventually breakdown which makes transplanting A LOT easier. You need not try to prick out “the best” seedling and disturb its new and delicate roots if you use peat pots. Simply prick out the seedlings you do not want so that the best one remains in the pot. You can let a plant get quite established right in a peat pot until you are ready to put it in its more permanent home. Again, this is only a suggestion.
To sow seeds directly outdoors, the disadvantage is that you must wait until ground temperature is at least 58 for cooler greens like baby lettuces, arugala and the like; and for any heat loving herbs, you will need to wait for temperatures to reach at least 65 degrees before you can successfully start herbs outside. However, sowing directly outdoors can be less complicated than managing seed trays and individual containers for some, also, the herbs just get established right where they are sown, so again, outdoor sowing can be easier. Basically, the same procedure for sowing in pots applies to outdoor sowing; remember that you will want to be sure to sow sparingly and not plop a bunch of seeds down. Although they will sprout the seedlings are so close together nothing will grow and often trying to thin such a dense clump of seedlings results in all of them being ruined. I suggest you sow sparingly by hand in a patches or some other configuration of your choosing. The other drawback to outdoor sowing can be pests like snails and slugs. The best thing to do when sowing outdoors in a snail ridden area is to cover the seeds with a piece of thin plastic or even parchment paper that has slits cut into it throughout. Sprinkling bran over and around the newly sown area also helps deter these pests.
When it comes to seeding germination, times vary depending on whether the seed is started indoors or straight into the prepared bed outdoors. As a general rule, expect seeds sown outdoors to take 3 times as long to germinate than those started earlier indoors. The other thing to note is that some herbs just do not grow well from seed for those of us who are ambitious gardeners and want to see fragrant herbs as soon as possible in our garden. Therefore, there are some herbs that are simply best purchased from a good nursery or herbal grower on line. Lingles Herbs is an excellent organic grower by the way for most herbs. However, for lavender lovers like me- you cannot get better than the organic varieties available at Purple Haze . The best herbs to purchase already established include lavender, spike, rosemary, rose geraniums, rose varieties, and exotic herbs you may want to grow like patchouli, curry, and exotic sages or salvia types. Of course there are many others to mention but overall, if you see an herb that resembles the woody branching shapes (sort of like a little “tree”) or is indigenous of a climate very different from your own, it may be worth considering obtaining one that is already started rather than attempting to start from seed.
When it’s time to repot or transplant your seedlings or the herbs you purchased that were already established, you simply make sure that the soil is correct for the herb itself and then transplant. If you started your own herbs in peat pots, just make a hollow for it and plant the whole thing, pot and all right in then cover and press surround dirt firm. This goes for either translplanting into new containers or right in outdoor beds. If you have started herbs in other non degradable containers then you need to remove it to replant. Again, make a hollow for the new plant, gently tip the pot on its side and tap the whole herb with dirt right out in one piece as far as possible. This way the roots of the herb will be least disturbed in the transplanting process. Some gardeners recommend mixing a bit of liquid vitamin B into the water and treating the herbs with it the day before transplanting to eliminate shock as far as possible. The other thing you can do if you are planting herbs directly into an outdoor bed to support them is amend the soil with a bit of nutrients that the herbs like. You can do this individually according to the minerals the herbs may like. For example, if you are putting lavender in the ground in a new home, you can add a few tablespoons lime (available at any nursery) to help the soil be more alkaline which creates the soil “PH” level it thrives best in. For other herbs, amendments like a bit of dried bonemeal can help if added in a small amount and blended well before adding the new plant to the ground. Herbs have unique preferences and so if you can duplicate as much as possible their natural habitat, you will be rewarded with excellent results and a very fragrant garden! I suggest you take a bit of time to look into the specifics of the herbs you may want to plant so you know how best to re-create that environment in your garden. We will talk more about herbs specifically in this column too, but as there are so many and such variety, you can learn a lot also easily by just looking into it at your library as well as online!