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Frequently asked questions about growing from seed...

What is the difference between an annual, biennial and a perennial?
Annuals are plants that live for only a year. Some annuals such as most poppy varieties will re-seed giving the appearance of a perennial. A biennial will die in its second year after germination but some varieties do re-seed and hence behave like perennials. They may flower in both the first and second years, or in the second year only. Perennials are plants that live for three or more years.

How should I store my seed if I am not sowing right away?
A tightly closed jar in the refrigerator works well. The idea is to keep them cool and dry. The enemies of seed are heat and moisture. Leaving them in the packets you receive from us and store in your refrigerator until you plant is ideal for most varieties. Refrigerated, the seeds of most varieties may be stored for 2-3 years.

Should I start my seeds indoors or outside?
Some seeds are best planted directly into the garden, while others really should be started indoors. Most seeds can be started inside, even those which require a cold treatment first can be "tricked" to germinate inside. Direct seeding with many annuals is a matter of choice. To determine whether you should start seeds indoors or out consider the growing season in your area. If it is shorter than the time the plant needs to produce flowers or vegetables then you should start indoors. Generally seeds of a manageable size are sown directly outdoors. Really small seeds need the extra attention sowing indoors in a controlled environment provides. Some gardeners start seedlings indoors to extend the harvest. Many vegetables and flowers will produce much earlier if started indoors. You will lose more seedlings to the elements, insects and bad weather when direct seeding.

How do I start my seed indoors?
The basic requirements for successful seed germination are a good growing medium, warmth, moisture, air and light. We always recommend you us a good quality potting mix that is specially formulated for starting seeds - never use garden soil. These are available just about anywhere seeds and plants are sold. The mix should be lightweight and sterile. Most seeds need at least a constant temperature of 70 degrees F. for germination. Bottom heat from specially designed mats or cables are ideal but you can also place your containers on top of the fridge, or radiator, etc. Some seeds need light in order to germinate - these are usually sown on the surface of your potting mix. After germination seedlings need 12-14 hours of light per day to prevent weak, spindly growth. Fluorescent lights are optional but recommended for growing inside unless you have a greenhouse to move seedlings to after germination. Without artificial light or a greenhouse, you need a south facing window at the very least for most seedlings.

How do I know what seeds will do best in my climate?
It is important to grow varieties that are suitable for your region. Check our descriptions or your local department of agriculture. Ask other gardeners in your area as well. If your not sure, send us an email and we will be happy to help you out.

What is my hardiness zone?
This is a number which represents how well plants survive in your climate. The lower the number a plant has, the hardier the plant. The zone number is a general guide to hardiness. Many other factors affect how well a plant will thrive, such as snow cover, freeze-thaw cycles and strong winds. To find out which zone you live in, please see Plant Hardiness Zones information in our
Seed Growing Guide.

I don't live in a frost-free location, can I still grow tropical plants?
Most of the tropical plant seeds offered at our online store are well suited to container growing in colder regions. These may be overwintered inside or grown as year-round houseplants. We include growing instructions for our seed items, including tropicals that can be grown as houseplants.

What is an open pollinated variety?
Open pollinated means simply that the plants are left to become pollinated on their own, naturally, either through cross pollination (via wind, insects or water) or self pollination (the transfer of pollen from the male to the female of the same flower, or to those of another flower on the same plant).

What is an hybrid variety?
An hybrid variety is defined as the product of a cross between two different varieties or parents of the same plant species. The first generation that results from the cross is known as an F1 hybrid. The seed this F1 hybrid may produce is known as an F2 hybrid.

What is an heirloom variety?
Heirloom plants are old varieties and cultivars grown by earlier generations of farmers and gardeners. To be considered an heirloom, a plant must be open-pollinated - i.e., it will grow true to type and produce plants like the parents from seed. In contrast, seeds obtained from crossing two different parent types will produce what is called an hybrid plant. Most modern plants sold are hybrids and were created through specialized breeding of plants. There is no consensus as to how old a plant variety should be before it can be considered an heirloom, but generally if it has been around for a few generations and has not changed, it is considered an heirloom.

Can I save the seed from an hybrid plant?
The seed obtained from an hybrid plant most often does not come true to type, but instead reverts back to the traits of the parent plants. This may result in the seeds harvested from hybrids to produce plants that are very dissimilar to the original plant.

What is damping off?
Damping off is a disease caused by several different fungi that rot the seeds during germination or kill the seedlings after emergence. It can be very destructive on many plants, including most flower, houseplants and vegetables. The fungi that cause damping off live in the soil and are common in field soil and the greenhouse environment. For this reason careful sanitation in indoor germination areas is important. Damping off is favored by wet soil, poor sanitation, poor ventilation, high humidity and overcrowded seed flats. Preventative techniques are the best defense against this disease: do not overwater, water seedlings preferably in the morning; provide adequate drainage and proper ventilation; do not overcrowd seedlings . Use a fan to reduce humidity indoors. Outdoors, plant at the recommended depth. Treat the soil with a fungicide like No Damp.

View Seed Growing Guide for more gardening related information.