These days, it's really easy to "Google" a gardening question and get a whole host of answers that may or may not be the same. Which one do you believe? Which one do you implement and then possibly risk failure?
Well, a lot of it is trial and error and just figuring out what works for you and what doesn't; but another key point is who or where you're sourcing your information (which we'll get to that in a moment).
And there is also a bit of personal interpretation that happens when we digest and then implement this information, so it can be easily misconstrued.
All to say, information can easily get jumbled.
So, what do you do?
You may or may not like this answer, but... READ A LOT & EXPERIMENT. And find really good sources of information!
I have a few gardening sources that I almost always go to if I'm trying to figure out a gardening conundrum or want good advice as to how to do something. And these are people who have been gardening for A LONG TIME and the know what they're talking about!
Charles Dowding is a GREAT example! And he's so humble about his garden know-how, which just makes him fun to learn from.
I'll let you find your own great sources, but just know that not all "experts" are the end-all, be-all. Sometimes what everyone is saying or what you've always known to be true, might not be.
You might just have to try it (on a small scale) to really know if it works or not.
This is basically what I've done over the years and for the most part, it's been a great experience (and experiment)!
So what I'm sharing with you now are RULES that I followed (or tried to follow) for a while but then over time came to realize were actually more like SUGGESTIONS - see... interpretation at its finest.
Everything I'm listing is here is not necessary WRONG OR RIGHT - although I viewed a couple of them as such and others I just outright ignored!
It has been so freeing to LET THE GARDENING RULE BOOK GO & just give some things a try! And that's what I'm encouraging you to do too!
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* Photo courtesy of Charles Dowding
I just wrote a whole post on this very topic of multi-sowing because I find it so intriguing! But I find the fact that no one is talking about it to be even more intriguing! (Okay, some people are talking about it, but not as many as I would assume).
General gardening advice would tell you to sow one seed per cell, period.
Of course people accidentally add more than one seed to a cell, but then they thin them out once they've sprouted.
And then there's the practice of placing multiple seeds in a seed cell for purposes of GERMINATION, which I've done for years. Sow two seeds in case one doesn't germinate.
But neither of these are actually multisowing.
Hardly anyone (that I've run into) is teaching on the actual practice of sowing AND growing multiple seeds in a cell together on purpose and THEN planting them together in the ground in a clump.
Not one seed-starting class or video or blog that I've ever taken or read has taught this principle. Not one. And I find this fascinating because it's such a simple and brilliant practice!
So there you go, you don't HAVE TO thin out your seedlings in every case. Some plants actually do better grown together in a bunch! To find out more on this topic, check out my
This next one kind of makes me chuckle, mainly because I believed it for so long. In fact, I've written and taught on it for years, but have decided this myth is really more of a suggestion and an interpretation, then a hard and fast RULE.
General gardening advice would tell you that you SHOULDN'T start cucurbits and legumes indoors.
What are cucurbits and legumes, and why would they tell you this?
Cucurbits are watermelons, muskmelons (cantaloupe & honeydew types), cucumbers, squash (both summer and winter), pumpkins, and gourds.
Legumes are any kind of pea, bean, or lentil.
And ALL of these plants are recommended to start directly IN the ground, not in cells or modules. And for the most part, this can be good advice... until it's not.
Cucurbits and legumes don't like to have their roots disturbed. In other words, they don't like moving from one place to another and their growth can be stunted if they are moved carelessly.
BUT, if done in a careful manner, you can absolutely start these plants INDOORS and transplant them outside when the time in right.
In fact, in areas like SW MICHIGAN, where we have a shorter, and cooler growing season, WE SHOULD START THEM INDOORS! By doing so, we not only give them an extra month of growth, we're starting them in a temperature-controlled environment that is very likely WARMER then it is outdoors.
These plants like REALLY WARM weather to germinate and grow in, and even though you directly sow them into the ground AFTER THE LAST FROST DATE, the ground may still not be warm enough for their liking.
So, if you live in a cooler climate with a shorter growing season, try starting them indoors, preferably in a larger cell and on a heat mat or in a nice, warm spot. The seeds will germinate faster and the plant itself will get a better head start than it might get outdoors.
I have found myself many a time looking at planting cells (for seed starting) and thinking, "These drainage holes are too big and all the soil will just fall or drain out!"
But this is actually not true!
PROPER DRAINAGE IS ESSENTIAL for good germination and healthy seedlings.
While you absolutely need to keep the soil moist during germination, too much water can cause the seeds and the tender roots of your seedlings to rot.
Additionally, if your seed-starting medium is too fine, water will get logged in the fine particles and unable to drain appropriately, causing the same issues. And there are quite a few seed starting mixes that fall into this category.
In general, bigger drainage holes are better, BUT this does somewhat depend on WHICH soil medium you use and HOW you "pack" it in.
TO AVOID THIS, do the following:
Point #1: Use a soil medium, preferably compost, that is not too fine and not too woody, and by "woody," I mean not having too many large particles in it. You should be able to run it easily through a 4mm hardware cloth sieve.
In the image below, sample (a) is a good example of a fine (but not too fine) compost for seed starting. Sample (b) might work for larger seeds, like squash, beans, and peas, and you could certainly mix it with a finer blend like (a) to get a better blend.
Sample (c) would be much too coarse to use for a seed starting medium, as there would not be enough structure for tiny seeds to root. It would, however, be great for potting soil or even as something you could put directly in your garden beds.
Point #2: To make sure soil doesn't leak out the larger drainage holes, make sure you pack your medium into your cell or module. Think of packing brown sugar into a measuring cup; it's a similar process.
Keep in mind, that you do want air to be able to permeate the compost and water to drain, so don't pack it in with an iron fist. Just give it a good press with one or two of your fingers, then add more compost as needed. You will probably do this "pressing" process two, if not three times.
By packing, or pressing, the compost into the cell and watering well, you are creating a seal of sorts that will actually keep the soil from leaking out. Yes, some residual "dust" will leave when the water drains, but you will be surprised how well the soil holds in the cell.
Here is a good example of a propagation tray with excellent drainage holes (and I bet they're bigger then you think!)
I should also mention that when you WATER YOUR TRAYS the first time, the water should not sit on top of the soil medium, but should quickly absorb. If it does pool on top, this is a good sign that the medium you've chosen won't aerate or drain appropriately.
This was a misunderstanding I had for years!
I always moistened my seed-starting medium prior to adding the seeds in order too avoid the water pooling on top and to make sure all the air pockets were pushed out (again, pressing or packing your compost ahead time helps with this).
BUT REALLY, if the compost/soil medium you've chosen is a good one, it will drain quickly and NOT POOL. And notice I'm saying COMPOST.....
Yes, it's true!
And actually, depending on how long your seedlings will be inside their little modular cells, you really WANT them to grow in something more hardy and nutritious like a good compost.
I've had this inward battle for years on this point. "Why am I using seed starting mix (a soil-less, nutrient-less medium) when seeds sprout just fine in regular soil??"
General gardening advice would tell you that you SHOULD use a soil-less seed starting mix to start your seeds.
Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with starting your seeds in a seed starting mix, but it will only take you so far. And here's what I mean by that...
Seed starting mix is not created to FEED YOUR SEEDLINGS. Its purpose is solely to get your seedlings going. It's a cozy place for them to sprout and settle in their roots.
BUT they'll only thrive for about 2-3 weeks in this medium, and that's because it's soil-less.
The seed itself has all the nutrients and food the seedling needs for the first couple of weeks. But after that period (usually when the seedling grows its first set of true leaves), subsequent nutrition will need to be provided.
This means that you will either have to: 1) transplant the seedling into the ground (which, if you've planned accordingly, can actually be the perfect time to transplant), 2) transplant them into a bigger cell, or 3) provide food through some sort of fertilizer.
So, if you don't want to spend the time transplanting your seedling into a larger pot before they're ready to go outdoors, consider growing your seedlings in a different soil medium, like compost.
Potting and garden soil will generally have too many large particles for starting seeds AND can be too dense, causing water logging.
Compost seems to have the best consistency - not too loose, not too dense. You can buy a good quality one at the store OR make your own.
A blend of worm castings, vermiculite, homemade or store-bought compost, soil, and mushroom compost can create a really great propagation medium that is nutrient dense, has good drainage, holds moisture (but not too much) and is weed free.
Unfortunately, there's a bit of trial and error here, but even within one season of starting seeds, you'll find something that works. Doing a comparison of different blends is also a great option. This is kind of what I've done over the years (but I'll have to do a separate blog post on that 😉)
I know, I know... by the time you've gotten all your seedlings outside in the garden, you're feeling DONE with seed starting.
BUT... there is SO. MUCH. MORE you can do with your garden then just the "one and done" propagation (and it can actually get REALLY fun!)
And, if you dive into some of the options I've presented here, specifically multi-sowing seeds and starting plants that are generally not recommended for starting indoors, you'll find that you can have a much more successful garden.
I have had measurable success starting some plants outdoors, specifically beets, rutabaga, turnips, and even radishes. I think part of this is due to the random spreading that happens when you're trying to get all those tiny seeds in nice neat rows out in the ground.
The other reason is that seeds really like germinating in WARMER SOIL. Even though these plants like, and even THRIVE IN COOLER WEATHER, they still like germinating in warmth!
Once they've germinated, they will grow just fine in a cooler spot, especially if they like cool weather.
So if you live in a cooler climate, like I do here in Michigan, you may have more success germinating cool season plants indoors on a heat mat or in a warm spot then direct sowing them outdoors (even though the seed packet tells you to!)
By doing this, they will germinate faster and will be a stronger seedling.
THEN you can just pop them out of their module and place them into the ground right where you want them! AND if you've multisown them, you'll grow multiple plants in that one spot! I just love this concept!
Additionally, by starting, or propagating, seeds inside (or in an outdoor greenhouse) you can succession sow plants for a longer period of time throughout the year.
For example, you can be growing an early variety potato outdoors and about 3-4 weeks before you're ready to harvest them, you can start some multi-sown leeks indoors that you can pop in the ground the minute you take out the potato plants!
You can be starting warm-loving bean plants indoors to succession plant right when you pull up the peas! And they'll have a great head start.
But this is just an example of some things you can plant almost every month of the year (there are so many more!) NOTE: This is for my hardiness zone (6B).
FOR MORE INFO ON MULTI-SOWING SEEDS, check out this blog post 👇🏻