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Growing Perennials From Seed

As we begin to look forward to our outdoor gardens and what we are going to plant in them, we will no doubt be thinking about perennials. Most gardeners have perennial or mixed borders and during the last decade or so perennials have gained in popularity. This is no surprise as a vast number of perennials have been developed by plant breeders and gardeners have discovered they are dependable, relatively easy to look after, provide beauty all season long and do away with the need to purchase as many bedding plants each spring.

Although perennials are readily available at garden centres, all potted up and ready for you to take home and plant, buying a large number of them can be relatively costly. Many people like to plant perennials in groupings or large drifts, and this can take upwards of a dozen or so. One easy and less expensive way to obtain a large number is to buy a package of seeds and grow the plants yourself.

Some perennial seeds – but not all – are a bit more difficult to germinate than seeds of many of the common annuals we often grow from seed. For this reason, be sure to read the instructions on the packet to see if the seeds require any special treatment, such as freezing or germination in darkness. The seed package will also give the time it takes for the seed to germinate, and perennial seeds do generally take longer to germinate than seeds of annuals, so they can be planted in March to have good-size plants by May. The key to success is to grow them where there is plenty of light and where the temperatures are not too high.

The best planting medium to use is a soilless mix recommended for germinating. It is a fine material composed mainly of peat moss. It is sterile, and if you use a sterile container, you should encounter no disease problems. To be on the safe side you might add a bit of fungicide, such as No Damp, to the water used to dampen the planting medium. Plant the seeds in the mix and cover them to the recommended depth. Then gently water the medium, or better yet, place the seed tray in a pan of water and let the moisture be absorbed by the soil through the drainage holes in the bottom of the seed tray. This way the seeds will not be disturbed by your watering from the top.

The planting medium cannot be allowed to dry out during the germination process, so it is a good idea to enclose the seed tray inside a plastic bag. Be sure to check periodically, and if water is condensing on the bag to any extent, remove the tray from the bag for a couple of hours to allow excess moisture to dissipate.

If you plant the seeds thinly, the plant-lets can remain in the seeding tray for quite some time. Generally perennials are slower growing than are annuals. Ultimately you will have to pot up the perennials individually or at least transplant them into packs to allow them room to grow. Potting them individually will ease the job of planting them into the garden when the time comes, as the roots of several plants will not become entangled.

Before transplanting the perennials into their locations in the garden, consider hardening them off by placing them outside in a sheltered spot for a few days, for increasingly longer periods of time. Perennials are generally more tolerant of light frosts so they can be transplanted into the garden earlier than many of the tender annuals.

Some perennials that are easy to grow from seed are: delphinium, echinacea, lady’s mantle, shasta daisy, marguerite daisy, achillea (yarrow), campanula (including Blue Clips), coreopsis, gaillardia, cranes-bill, heuchera, monarda, phlox, columbine, dianthus, helenium, heliopsis, hollyhock, lupines, penstemon, sage, potentilla, pyrethrum, rudbeckia, salvia, sea holly, and speedwell. This is not an exhaustive list and if there is a perennial you are interested in growing from seed, just check a couple of seed catalogues to see if the seed is listed.

– Albert Parsons writes from Minnedosa, Manitoba

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