All About Garden Seeds

Livingston Seed Company

It All Starts with the Seed

Without a doubt, great gardens begin with great garden seeds.

Experienced growers will tell you that good seed, the right seed, is an important first ingredient for a successful crop. Whether it’s a flower, vegetable, herb, or organic seeds, a great gardening season begins with high-quality garden seeds. Hopefully, the packet in your hand holds the promise of a great gardening season.

The annual seed search begins right after New Year. The seed search is a great winter hobby.

So, let’s get growing!

Selecting Your Garden Seeds

A successful garden begins with great seeds. This means:

  1. The seeds you acquire are viable and will have a good germination rate. A viable seed has fully formed. It is capable of sprouting after sowing. Subsequently, an immature seed will not sprout. A seed that has not fully developed is flatter, not the right color, smaller, or feels hollow. Also, seeds become older over time. Seeds age and decay, even in the most ideal situations. Normally, seeds from the prior season’s crop have the best germination rates. Some types of seeds have a longer shelf life than others. If properly stored, some types of seed will remain viable for several years. However, the germination rate declines the longer you store them.

  2. Genetics, genetics, genetics. If you want a large pumpkin, obtain seeds from a large parent. If you are seeking red tulips, acquiring bulbs from a red tulip parent is a necessity. For the tallest sunflower, find a tall parent. Read up on the plants and select ones that specifically meet your criteria.

  3. Fellow growers are a great source, especially for uncommon or “Heirloom” strains. These seeds often have unique characteristics not offered by a seed company

  4. While searching for the perfect seed, consider your local area’s climate conditions. Look for plant varieties best suited for your area. Some varieties of a given plant will grow better in cool or hot weather than others. This may also influence your selection of varieties with shorter maturity dates.

  5. Plant size is also important. For example, dwarf fruit trees are usually best for home backyards. Space constraints may require varieties of plants with a smaller growth habit. For example, sugar baby watermelons may be the only variety of watermelon you can grow.

Garden Seed Sources

Seed Catalogs- For many decades, paper seed catalogs were the starting place for finding seeds. The search began right after the new year. Gardeners sought a cozy easy chair beside a warm fire, with a catalog in one hand and a cup of hot chocolate in the other. Costly paper seed catalogs have been replaced by online catalogs.

Online Seed Sources – It’s a great place to find uncommon and heirloom varieties. Surf and select seeds in the comfort of your living room. Buy at prices lower than in stores. 

Brick and Mortar Stores– Garden stores and the “big box” stores are a good source for seeds. They have a supply of popular plant seeds during the growing season. Brick and Mortar stores offer a much more limited selection than online stores. They cater to the masses.

Other Growers- This is an outstanding source for acquiring seeds. Importantly, you can often receive or swap hard-to-find varieties, that will make your garden stand out from the rest. Wise and avid gardeners cultivate this source of seed from friends, relatives, neighbors, and fellow growers. 

Did you know? Many growers believe that plant disease can be spread from seeds. Keep this in mind when acquiring seed from fellow growers. Don’t let this deter you. Ask about the health of their crops. If they have had recent problems, you may want to decline.

Tip: Looking for some different seed to grow? Try an online chat room. This can work especially well if you have seed to swap.

Saving Garden Seeds

Here’s how to harvest your garden seed:

  1.  Select seed from healthy plants. A seed contains the DNA of the parent plants, just like humans and animals. Consequently, select seeds from plants with the “biggest or brightest bloom”, or largest and tastiest fruit”.

  2. Plants appearing more disease resistant are the best candidates.

  3. Gather seeds from two or more plants. Multiple sources increase the likelihood of good seedling germination.

  4. Make sure the seed is mature. This is more difficult than it may seem. For example, a green tomato has immature seeds. Also, a flower seed may not be mature until weeks after the bloom has died back.

  5. Extract the seeds from the flower or fruit.

  6. For seeds picked dry, proceed to step 12.

  7. Wash and rinse seeds thoroughly using mildly soapy, lukewarm water. Do not use hot water and do not soak them in the water.

  8. Use a strainer to drain the seeds.

  9. Spread seeds out on an old screen. This allows air circulation.

  10. Stir them at least once a day for the first few days. Turn them over as you stir.

  11. Allow them to air dry in a cool, dry area for three weeks, or longer. Do not cut the drying time short, even if they appear “dry”.

  12. Sort seeds, discarding any that appear immature or misformed, small, or damaged.

  13. Store in a bag, or envelope in a cool dry place. Air-tight jars are not recommended. If they are not thoroughly dried, they will mold and rot.

  14. Mark the packet or envelope with the date and type of seed.

  15. Some people place the seed in a freezer for a couple of weeks, to replicate nature. This is optional for most seeds.

If you grow potatoes, you will find it’s easy to make seed potatoes. See How to Make Seed Potatoes.

Sowing Seeds

There is no trick to the basic process of sowing and planting. Seed packets will normally tell you the proper depth and spacing. Follow those instructions. Our individual plant guides also contain this information.

The most frequent mistake growers make is to plant seeds too deeply. If the seed is too deep, they may germinate, but be unable to sprout to the surface. The general rule of thumb is “twice the diameter of the seed”. But, who do you know measures the diameter of their seed?

From a practical standpoint, make sure to read the instructions on the packet, for the proper planting depth. When in doubt, plant it shallower than the instructions. This is especially true if you have hard, clay soils as it is more difficult for the seedling to emerge. You can always add more soil or mulch around the base of the plant, after it germinates.

Indoors: Follow the seed packet instructions for depth. We recommend always planting a little shallower than the instructions. When planting indoors, there is less risk of the surface of the soil drying out, as it is not exposed to the effects of sun and wind. Leave adequate room in the planting container to add more soil around the stem of your seedlings.

Pre-soaking Seeds

This is a common practice. Many seeds can be soaked in water before planting. This allows moisture to penetrate the seed coat (or shell) to give a germination jump start. Soak them anywhere from a couple of hours to 24 hours before planting. You can also place them between wet paper towels.

In general larger seed works best. There is a risk of ruining some seed, so experiment with small amounts before you devote your entire year’s crop to this method. With paper toweling, use a wet, not soaking wet toweling and leave the seed inside it. Add bottom heat to speed up the germination process further.

More on Soaking Seeds

Nicking Seeds

Some people nick the seed coat with a sharp knife. This creates an avenue for moisture to more readily penetrate to the nut inside, resulting in faster germination.

This practice is limited to larger ones that you can handle. It is also very tedious.   

More on Nicking Seed


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