January is still wintertime here in Richmond, Virginia, and we may have some intense winter storms around the corner, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get started on your seed starting plans. In fact, sooner would be better for a few reasons. Read on to find out why.
This is the second article in the Pleasants 2019 Lawn & Garden Preparation Guide. Read up on our previous post about winter pruning and be sure to subscribe, so you don’t miss our next post about cleaning up your post-winter yard so you are ready for springtime weather!
Are My Seeds from Last Year Still Good?
Assuming you properly store your seeds in a cool, dry and airtight container (maybe even with a little powdered milk or silica gel to keep them safe from humidity), garden seeds could last anywhere from 2 to 3 years.
It is important to note, however, that every seed packet has an expected germination rate that decreases as time goes on. On the one hand, you can, at no point, expect every single seed in the packet to sprout. On the other hand, if you have enough very old seeds, they might not be a lost cause. You might get lucky with one or two sprouts. There are no guarantees, just probabilities.
Testing for germination takes as long as the specific plant species takes to germinate. Depending on the species, you could be looking at anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. This is one reason you may want to begin your seed starting in January. Knowing the germination rate on your seeds may justify ordering replacements.
Germination Rate Testing:
- Spread ten seeds on a damp paper towel and wrap
- Put the seeds in a warm place (75°F)
- Wait for seeds to germinate
- When it is clear that no more seeds will germinate, count how many did, divide by 10 and multiply by 100 to get the percent.
When to Start Seeds in Richmond, Virginia?
The USDA uses hardiness zones to give you an idea of what you can plant and when you can plant it. The last frost date for this region is April 15th, and the minimum expected temperature is 5 degrees Fahrenheit.
While not all plants handle transplant shock well, the flowers and vegetables that you do want to start indoors should start in mid to late February. If you have a greenhouse, you’ll want to use it along with a digital thermometer to create a controlled environment for your seeds to germinate. Germination requires a great deal of moisture, heat, and lighting. Seeds germinate best when they are put in a damp environment just above room temperature. Using seed starter trays with proper drainage and ventilation will keep them from rotting, and a heat mat underneath the tray will give the little boost in temperature you need. You will also want a fluorescent lamp that runs for 12-16 hours a day within 6 inches of the seedlings. Pleasants offers indoor/outdoor outlet timers to automate this process.
Once the threat of frost has passed in mid-April, a frost blanket will give you peace of mind against any sudden cold snaps and a keep the bugs away from your delicate seedlings.
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Hopefully, this advice has helped you get your vegetable plants and flowers the head start they need this year to have a successful growing season. Don’t forget to subscribe by entering your email on the contact page, so you don’t miss the next entry in our 2019 Lawn & Garden Preparation Guide!