Possibilities are endless, but success takes a little work

If you think about it, seeds are amazing things. Seeds allow plants a chance to spread, to delay emergence if the conditions aren’t right, and allow humans to save them for the perfect plot, miles away from their point of origination.

Before plants evolved to produce seed, they reproduced asexually, some with runners that spread out and established them near the parent plant, or when parts of the plant broke off, a new one would grow. These methods of asexual reproduction have their limitations. They don’t travel, generally didn’t allow for the next generation to wait for the right conditions to thrive, and they also didn’t allow for genetic diversity.

But with the evolution of seed-producing plants, the possibilities are endless. These little packages created by nature just need the right conditions and they’ll spring forth vegetables and flowers for your garden. Incredible!

There are a lot of reasons to plant seeds for a garden. In “The Seed-Starters Handbook,” Nancy Bubel wrote that the reasons to start plants from seed include having access to a greater variety of plants, having stronger and healthier seedlings, preparing for an earlier harvest, satisfaction, enjoyment and cost savings. I agree with all of these reasons except the claim about cost savings. In my opinion, while seeds are cheap, the amount of time and materials invested in starting seeds makes any savings negligible.

Starting plants from seed isn’t as simple as just plopping a few in the ground and watering them, especially in the climate and soil conditions gardeners in western Colorado face. A little know-how and finesse will help produce success.

Though this is by no means comprehensive, and entire books have been written on the topic of starting seeds, a few tips will help get you started on the right foot.


Spending time trying to grow old seeds that haven’t been stored properly and have lost viability is a waste and can only lead to disappointment.

Give yourself a head start and purchase new seeds guaranteed to have a reliable germination rate, or use seeds that were properly saved and stored from the previous year.



Creating the right conditions for a seed to sprout means breaking its dormancy. The ingenious thing about seeds is that some of them have different requirements for germination, and when you provide those conditions, it’s like knowing the secret password to coaxing the sprout to emerge.

Some seeds require light, dark, heat, cold or even fire to germinate. Most vegetable seeds are pretty easy to please and require water and a certain temperature to sprout. Cold-season varieties, such as lettuce, peas and radishes, require less heat than other vegetables and can be sown earlier.

Most seed packets will have the instructions for germination included, along with germination rates dependent on soil temperature. Remember that air temperature and soil temperature are two different things, and seeds planted too early have a chance of rotting in the ground before they sprout.

Pay attention to the directions that instruct you to start some seedlings indoors a certain number of weeks before the last frost date. FYI, the average last frost date for Grand Junction is around May 3.

Don’t think that starting seeds earlier than necessary is a good thing. Seedlings that are ready to transplant but are stuck indoors will become leggy and sad-looking. As an example, according to Colorado State University Extension, you will need five to seven weeks prior to the last frost date to start tomatoes indoors, so wait until next month.



You’ll notice that seed companies will list “days to harvest” with the different types of vegetables. This is important to note because the most disappointing thing is to nurture a plant all summer long, only to have the weather freeze before you get any sort of gratifying harvest.

Good examples of this are melons and winter squash, which have many varieties that require a longer growing season than we have here. Varieties requiring 80–100 days to mature are common. Either choose a variety with a shorter maturation requirement, use season-extending cold frames or start seeds early inside, using artificial lights.



Remember this is supposed to be fun and you’ll learn from your successes and failures.

Erin McIntyre is an advanced master gardener and journalist who hosts “Diggin’ the Garden” the second Wednesday of every month at noon on KAFM 88.1. Email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with story ideas or feedback.


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