To seed or not to seed? With apologies to ol' Will Shakespeare, that is the question asked by many high-country gardeners every fall.
Seed packets and information about the seeds in the wild that gardeners collect tell us about bloom time, germination time and when to sow seeds. However, in the Steamboat climate, sometimes it makes sense to hedge our bets on spring-planted seeds by sowing part of them in the fall and the rest in the spring. Some local master gardeners have had good luck with this method of seeding their garden.
The key to planting seeds is to keep good records. At minimum, list the common and Botanic name of your seed variety, when you planted the seed, where you planted the seed (shade, sun, hillside, protected area, which direction the plants face), and how the seed was planted (planting medium, depth into the soil and if there was any mulch covering). Another thing I find handy is keeping a photograph or drawing of the plant at seedling stage so I know whether the sprout in my garden is my seed germinating or is a weed brought in by the wind, birds or chipmunks.
When seeding your garden or lawn, use good, viable seed. If you save seed from year to year, unless carefully stored in a cool, dry location, chances are it will germinate poorly. This is especially true for annuals and vegetable seeds. Most seed packets will be dated and will state that the seeds were "packed for (a particular year)."
Some seeds need to be scratched or grated (scarified) on their outside coats to start germinating. Others need a period of coolness before they will sprout, while some need to be soaked in warm water to coax them into growing. Some seeds have sunlight requirements, while others only will grow if they receive a period of darkness by sowing with a good covering of soil. Be sure to read the packet for any special instructions.
If you're seeding the garden this fall, consider sowing: pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), columbine (Aquilegia), most asters, purple poppy mallow (Callirhoe involucrata), mountain gentian (Gentiana parryi), fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium), wild hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis), lupine, Beebalm (Monarda), primrose (Oenothera flava), Penstemon, golden banner (Thermopsis montana) and speedwell (Veronica nutans). Also, most wildflower seeds and grass seeds germinate best when sown in the fall.
Another way to gain a head start on the growing season for spring-planted seeds is to start them indoors. Once you know the germination time for your seeds, simply count back from when the seedlings can be safely set outdoors. Then plant them in a lightweight planting medium and keep it moist but not soggy, watering from the bottom so the soil takes up the moisture.
So, should you plant your seeds now or wait until spring? Maybe try both this year and see if you get better results.
Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County.
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