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Direct Sow These Flowers

From our April 2021 Newsletter

If the ground in your garden is workable, now is a great time to direct sow some cold loving flowers.

There are many flowers that need and prefer the cool soil to get established early on in the growing season.

I’ll be direct sowing these cold loving flowers as soon as I have a free moment and a day with half-way decent weather- which is a month earlier than last year!

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Special Seed Germination Requirements

From our January 2022 newsletter.

Some flowers are notoriously easy to start from seed (marigolds, cosmos, amaranth, grasses, zinnias, etc).  Other flowers can make you feel like you haven’t a clue as to what you are doing; for me this was phlox, delphiniums, and foxglove my first year- all of which I’m trying again this season.

Every flower has a different, ideal environment required for them to germinate from seed.  Most seeds packages or websites will include basic sowing information.  Such as:

light required, do not cover

darkness required, cover

72F required to germinate (use a heat mat)

cooler temps required, no heat mat

Most importantly, keep the soil moist but not wet and never allow it to dry out!

And there can be extra steps to get stubborn seeds to germinate, like perennials. I’m talking about cold stratification, seed scarification, and the Speed Dial Method of cold moist stratification. 

Cold stratification is the process whereby seed dormancy is broken in order to promote this germination. In order for the stratification of seeds to be successful, it is necessary to mimic the exact conditions that they require when breaking dormancy in nature.  Cold treatment for seeds is necessary for flowers that require time in the ground over winter in order to germinate.

For the most part, this involves storing those seeds either in the fridge or freezer for 1-2 weeks before you will be sowing the seeds.  (Delphiniums, larkspur, ammi, etc)

Scarification in botany involves weakening, opening, or otherwise altering the coat of a seed to encourage germination. The seeds of many plant species are often impervious to water and gases, thus preventing or delaying germination.  You can nick seeds with the edge of a nail clipper, a nail file, or a knife, or you can sand through the seed coat with a bit of sandpaper; I do this to lupins.

The Speed Dial Method of cold stratification involves placing seeds in a plastic bag with moist growing medium, and placing it in the freezer for a day, then moving the bag to the fridge for a day, and repeating this cycle for 7 days.  The Speed Dial Method was developed by Miriam Goldberger of Wildflower Farm in Ontario.

I’ve included a link where she talks more about this method.

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Seeds to Start Early in the Season

From our January 2022 newsletter.

I’m estimating that my last frost date will be June 1 (there is a super full moon on May 26), and counting back the weeks puts me at 18 weeks before the last frost as of January 22. 

There are not many flowers Zone 3 gardeners can be starting right now, but here is a list of seeds you can be starting in the next two months.  Most of my seed starting is actually in April- I’m trying to save myself from the urge to start things too soon (like last year), so I have every flower written down on the specific week I need to start them.

Listed from Mid December to end of February:
Sea Holly
Icelandic Poppies
Verbena bonariensis
Feathertop grass
Mahogany Splendor Hibiscus

And in case I don’t send out a March newsletter, flowers to start in March: 
Dusty Miller
Biennial Sweet William

I’ll also be starting onions from seed right away; I grew storage onions last year from seed and they have been keeping really well this winter.  So more of them are on the agenda!  (Copra, Patterson and Talon are good storage onions)

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Some of My Favourite Things- Seed Starting Edition

1.  Clear plastic salad containers. 
I start all of my seeds (except for the very reliable and easy to sow things like stock and grasses), in these containers.  The lids keep the moisture in for germinating, I usually broadcast my seeds, which saves times instead of placing individual seeds in each cell of a tray. 

When it comes to germinating on heat mats (see below), I can germinate so many more seeds than if I sowed in the large cell trays (10″x20″).

I let them grow, and when it’s time I bump them up into cell trays, leaving me with full cell trays and no gaps from spotty germination I would have otherwise encountered from sowing in a cell tray.

2. Large bread bowl for mixing potting soil.
I had previously been using a 2.5gal pail, and while it worked, upgrading to a very large bread bowl is a big improvement.  The bread bowl I use is from an industrial kitchen supply store.

3.  Pump sprayer
This thing beats the heck out of a regular spray bottle- which I used my first season.  I use it when seeds are first germinating and are too small to water with a narrow spout watering jug.  I can adjust the nozzle to get that fine spray/mist I need for tiny seedlings.  I found this one at my local hardware store for $9 I think?

4.  Livestock feed scoop
This tool has really sped up the process of scooping potting medium into the bread bowl when I am filling trays.  Before I was using my hands or an awkward container to dig out dry potting mix, and this thing is perfect.  I bought this at Early’s for $7. 

5.  Heat Mat
Bottom heat can really speed up the germination process, and some seeds actually require that extra warmth before they will germinate.  I have 2, 10×20″ mats, and 2 of the 20″x20″ mats, which is perfect when paired with my salad containers.  The seedlings only need to stay on the mat until they are germinated, and should be moved off to prevent them from frying.  

6. Sunblaster T5 4′ Combo Growlights 
These are a more expensive option than setting up shop lights with a warm and cool fluorescent bulb, but I find their ease of use is worth it.  They have a slim profile, and don’t take up a lot of shelf room (height), which is important when plants start to get tall.  The height is easy to adjust with small chain and s-hooks.  And they don’t give off a lot of heat, which can be hard on young seedlings.  I have bought all my lights from Early’s for $48.  

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Hardening Off Your Seedlings

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Seed Starting – What Type of Potting Medium to Use

From our April 2021 Newsletter

The Potting Medium I Use

Never use a potting mix that contains garden soil. Why? Because it contains natural fungi and diseases such as “damping off disease” that can harm seedlings. Garden soil is heavy and tends to compact and is not porous enough to supply the correct amount of air to the roots of little seedlings. A better option is to buy a soil-less seed starting mix which typically contains fine-grade peat, vermiculite, dolomitic lime (for pH) and a wetting agent.

I use Pro-Mix HP MYCORRHIZAE to start all of my seedlings; I buy this from Early’s in Saskatoon as 3.8cu.ft bale, but they are available in 42.5L bags as well.


Peat Moss

Peat moss is dead fibrous material that forms when mosses and other living material decompose in peat bogs. Most of the peat used in North America comes from remote bogs in Canada.

Peat moss first became available to gardeners in the mid-1900s, and since then it
has become highly valued by horticulturists for its ability to retain water and oxygen without becoming waterlogged or heavy. It holds several times its weight in water, and releases the moisture to plant roots as needed.

It also holds onto nutrients so that they aren’t rinsed out of the soil when you water. It is generally sterile and naturally suppresses fungal diseases that can afflict seedlings, making it a natural choice for seed starting.

There is some concern about the harvest and use of peat moss because it classified as a non-renewable resource due to the fact peat bogs gain less than a millimeter in depth every year.

On the link below I’ve shared an article that explains the concerns in detail and some alternative solutions that are on the market.

Washington Post Article: The Sustainability of Peat Moss


As plants have evolved to survive in challenging conditions, one important set of survival mechanisms they have developed involves creating mutually beneficial (symbiotic) relationships between plant roots and soil-borne organisms such as bacteria and fungi.

These associations between plant roots and fungi are called mycorrhizae. It is a symbiotic arrangement where plant roots are hospitable sites for the fungi to anchor and produce their threads (hyphae). The roots provide essential nutrients for the growth of the fungi. In return, the large mass of fungal hyphae acts as a virtual root system for the plants, increasing the amount of water and nutrients that the plant may obtain from the surrounding soil. This relationship between fungi and plant results in an overall improved plant growth.

The Pro-Mix soil-less potting medium I use contains a beneficial mycorrhizal inoculum (Glomus intraradices).


What is Vermiculite?

Vermiculite is the name of a group of hydrated laminar minerals (aluminum-iron magnesium silicates) which look like mica. Horticultural vermiculite is processed with massive heat that expands it into accordion shaped pellets composed of multiple layers of thin plates.

It has the benefits of improving soil aeration while retaining moisture and nutrients to feed roots, cuttings and seeds for faster, maximum growth.

What is Perlite?

Perlite is a naturally occurring mineral, and it exists in nature as a type of volcanic glass. When water saturates volcanic obsidian glass over time, perlite starts to form. Perlite is mainly water, and when manufacturers heat the material at high temperatures, it “pops” just like popcorn in the microwave.

Perlite is stable and retains its shape in your soil mix. It has a neutral pH, which makes it ideal as a soil amendment, and it contains no chemicals or nutrients. Perlite is a highly porous material and assists gardeners with water retention in the soil while improving drainage

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