Propagating Plants by Seeds

Let’s get one thing straight before we start.  Asexual propagation deals with starting plants by things other than seeds such as cuttings.  Sexual propagation, of course, then deals with propagating plants by sowing seeds.   This article will deal with my techniques for sowing seeds for my small backyard garden.

When I lived in Illinois, years ago, I had an acre truck garden, which I used for being a test gardener for the Horticulture magazine.  At that time I would receive over three dozen seed catalogs in December.  Now that I live in a subdivision with only limited space, and five raised vegetable beds, I only receive about ten or twelve catalogs.  I start my first seeds the last week of January so the catalogs must arrive in time for me to order and receive my seeds before that time.  The seeds will usually arrive just in time to make my schedule.

Once my seeds arrive, I divide them into stacks according to the seed planting dates.  The first stack for the last week of January are the teeny tiny seeds that take forever to reach transplanting size seedlings.  Tomatoes and sweet peppers are sown the first week of February, normal size seeds are planted the second week and the large seeds of sunflowers, etc. are planted the first week of March.  This is much earlier than most gardeners because I have the equipment to cover my plants if we have a late frost.  You probably have your own dates that you have had experience with over the years. 

Photo by RODNAE Productions on

I have started seeds in many different ways, from window sills to fluorescent lights in my basement, to cold frames to greenhouses.  The greenhouse would seem to be the best process but I don’t like keeping my greenhouse that warm in the winter.  Yes, I live in town and still have a 10 x 12-foot greenhouse.  Seeds will not germinate very well in cool temperatures.  I use my greenhouse to overwinter pots until the seedlings can be moved there.  The pots and trays then go into my heated garage under fluorescent lights.

Where do I start my seeds?  Why of course on my formal dining table!!  I put down plastic and then old towels to keep the moisture from ruining my table.  I plant most of my plants in old Tupperware containers with holes drilled in the bottom.  They come with lids to cover the seeds and keep them moist until they germinate.  They are perfect for this and by far my favorite.

Once they germinate, the lids come off and they go under two four-foot florescent lights that are also on the table.  The lights are on top of stacks of gardening books that are kept just a couple of inches higher than the plants.  As soon as the first real leaves come on, I transplant the seedlings to their own cell pack.  These can stay on the table until I run out of room and then they go to the greenhouse. 

By keeping the constant 70 to 75 degrees temperature I get almost 100 percent germination.  By watching the color of the potting mix I can tell when it is time to bottom water the containers in garden plant trays.  I use seed starting mix for the smaller seeds and potting mix for the larger seeds.  For the tomatoes and peppers, I use two of those Parks seed starting trays and transplant them to cell packs as quickly as possible. 

Oh, by the way, did I mention how convenient it is to use my dining room and it is extremely easy to spot any problems before they even happen.  You might try some of these suggestions.  I have dozens of YouTube videos on almost any garden plant known.  Just type in Bud Qualk in the YouTube search window and many of my shows will come up.  There should even be one on propagation.

Source: Bud Qualk, McCracken County Master Gardener

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About krjack4

Extension Agent for Horticulture Serving home gardeners and Green Industry professionals, including commercial fruit & vegetable producers. Advisor to: Christian County Master Gardener Association; Downtown Hopkinsville Farmers Market.