Sow, Now’s the Time

Starting plants from seed is one of the most exciting and rewarding gardening activities. Growing seed is not complicated, it just requires a little thought and care. For best results, it is important to use fresh seed and follow the instructions on each seed packet which include specific planting tips, light source requirements and watering specifications. So grab a selection of your favorite seeds from annuals, to perennials to fruits & veggies -- and start from seed!

What you'll need:

  • Your choice of fresh seed packets
  • Clean pots or seed trays with drainage holes (egg cartons & Styrofoam cups work too but be sure to create a drainage hole). We recommend using seed starting supplies from Jiffy.
  • Seed starting mix. We recommend Black Gold Seed Starter Potting Mix.
  • Plastic spoon and or pencil - to make a hole for seed
  • Jiffy seed starter greenhouse, plastic bags or cling wrap – to keep moist.
  • Plant labels and/or marker.
  • Light source such as a bright window or a grow light
  • Water

Sowing the Seed:

  • Read seed package for special instructions.
  • Start the seeds about 8-weeks before the last expected frost date. In Hampton Roads, that is about April 15.
  • Label containers with seed type.
  • Fill pots or trays with seed starter mix to about 1 cm below the rim of container.
  • Plant seed. For small seed, sprinkle on top of starting mix and for large seed push into mix until just covered (soil depth depends on seed type).
  • Cover seeds with a thin layer of starting mix - approx. ¼ inch deep (do not cover very fine seed).
  • Water

Finishing Touches:

  • Place pots or trays insideyour seed starting greenhouse or use a large, loose plastic bag or cover with cling wrap to keep seeds warm and moist until germination.
  • Place in a warm, well lit area -- out of direct sunlight as it warms up.
  • If potting soil begins to dry out, remove cover and water gently.

Transplanting Seedlings:

  • When seedlings are 2-3 inches tall, transplant to a larger container for continued growth.
  • To transplant, fill the new container with pre-moistened mix and gently press the mix around the transplanted seedling and water to settle soil.
  • Plant seedlings in garden when the weather has warmed into the 50 degree range at night. Remember to acclimate the seedlings to outdoor life by slowly exposing them to sunlight in order to minimize stress on the plant.


Start from Seeds

When starting seeds indoors, the goal is to have hearty seedlings by the time it's warm enough to plant outdoors. Here's some tips to get started:

Choosing the Right Container
You can start seeds in almost any kind of container that will hold 1 to 2 inches of starting medium and has holes for drainage.

Seed-Starting and Potting Mixes
Seeds contain enough nutrients to nourish themselves through sprouting, so a seed-starting mix does not have to contain nutrients. It should be free of weed seeds, retain moisture, and provide plenty of air spaces. We recommend using a seed starting mix or McDonald All Purpose Potting Soil.

Sowing Seeds
The package instructions will give you details for spacing, however, here are a few rules of thumb:

  • Space large seeds at least 1 inch apart, planting 2 or 3 seeds in each pot (snip off the weaker seedlings later).
  • Plant medium-sized seeds ½ to 1 inch apart, and tiny seeds about ½ inch apart.
  • If you’re sowing only a few seeds, use your fingertips or tweezers to place them precisely.
  • Cover the seeds to a depth of three times their thickness by carefully sprinkling them with light, dry potting soil or seed-starting medium.
  • Be sure to label the seeds so that you know what you have planted.

Each packet of seeds will offer a germination time frame and that is the how long it will take the seeds to sprout. The packet will also recommend a time frame when planting the seeds indoors. Remember, here in Hampton Roads, the average last frost date is April 15 and you shouldn’t plant tender seedlings outdoors until after that date.

If you have any questions on this process, please see one of our experts at any McDonald Garden Center.


We’re Dreaming of… Tomatoes


Yes, will admit we’re tomato obsessed. And, even though it’s freezing cold outside and it’s still a few months before you’ll start your seed, you’re probably already dreaming about those red, juicy tomatoes and wondering which ones you’ll grow this season. No matter what the variety — plum, beefsteak, heirloom or grape — tomatoes are perfect for sprucing up a main dish, tossed in salads or simply eaten fresh off the vine! Here’s one tomato you’ll want to add to your garden this season:

Tomato Old Virginia Red – This heirloom from the Giltner family is old time sweet/ tart tomato. With dark red, smooth fruits this tomato has very few seeds. The 5-6 ft tall plants produce even in a long hot summer. This tomato has good yields and flavor.



Local Seed for Local Gardeners


NEW at the Garden Center, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange offers an assorted variety of vegetable, flower, herb, and grain seeds. Emphasizing varieties that perform well in the Mid-Atlantic and southeast, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is the perfect choice for seeds in Hampton Roads. Plus, they are GMO free and have agreed to the Safe Seed Pledge - meaning that they pledge to not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants.

Starting in 1982, Southern Exposure is located in the rolling hills of central Virginia, between Richmond and Charlottesville, not far from Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. With a 72-acre farm they have goats, chickens, hay fields, an herb garden, and extensive vegetable gardens for seed production, trialing, and eating.

Try some of our top picks of seeds this spring:

Tomato Old Virginia Red – This heirloom from the Giltner family is old time sweet/ tart tomato. With dark red, smooth fruits this tomato has very few seeds. The 5-6 ft tall plants produce even in a long hot summer. This tomato has good yields and flavor.

Sunflower Beach – This attractive wild sunflower is multi-branched and will grow with dozens of 2-4 inch yellow flowers on long stems. The leaves are similar to cucumbers with a lighter green and ragged edge. Extremely vigorous and drought tolerant this summer stellar will keep blooming for up to 3 months.

Thumblina Zinnia – this dwarf zinnia stands about 6-8 inches tall. With bright colored flowers in all the colors of summer (pink, red, and yellow) this gorgeous bloom will over color all season here in Virginia.

Also shop from these other varieties:

  • Arugula
  • Basil Bolloro Napoletano
  • Basil Genovese Sweet
  • Basil Mammoth
  • Cilantro
  • Fennel Florence
  • Hyssop
  • Mint
  • Beet Bulls Blood
  • Broccoli Green Goliath
  • Carrot Scarlet Nantes
  • Leek American Flag
  • Pea Southern Calico Crowder
  • Tomato Sugar Cherry
  • Turnip Purple Top White Glove
  • Watermelon Sugar Baby
  • Cosmos Bright Lights Orange


Start from Seeds!

When to start your seeds is always a bit of a guess. First, you’ll need to know when your last expected frost date is. Then check your seed packet to see how many weeks growth are required before setting outdoors. Count back that many weeks from your last expected frost date to get an approximate date for starting those seeds. It’s approximate because weather does not always live up to predictions, but you’ll be in the ballpark. Different plants will require different timing, so use a calendar to write down when to start what items.

Plant at the proper depth. Seed packets tell you just how deep to plant; a rule of thumb is to plant seeds two or three times as deep as they are wide. Use either purchased pots or flats. You can even use containers that you’ve saved like egg cartons, however be sure to clean them thoroughly before use. These will trap warmth and humidity where the seeds need it. Grow plants by keeping the soil moist. Seeds need water to start growing and young seedlings need a consistent supply to grow healthy and strong. If you don't have a bright window, you will need some kind of florescent or high density plant light.

Enjoy! In no time at all you’ll enjoy an abundant harvest of fresh vegetables and beautiful blooms!

TIP: We recommend potting soil for seed starting. Potting soil very often has no soil in it, but is a mix of peat, vermiculite and other fluffy matter that has the wonderful properties of being both water retentive and well-draining, because it doesn't pack down like garden soil. It's also free of diseases and insects that may be over-wintering in your garden soil. Of course, it also doesn't have any nutrients, so you will need to add those.

{ Happy Gardening! Posted by McDonald Garden Center, February 20, 2012 }