These seedbeds should be somewhat protected from drying winds, using mellow soil lest the seedling face a struggle in breaking through a crust which might form. Water seedbeds frequently and lightly; infrequent drenchings are better suited to more mature plants.
Row and broadcast sowing
It is better for the inexperienced gardener to sow seeds in rows rather than broadcast, for he may spot quick-starting weeds more readily and remove them with less chance of harming the germinating seeds. Weeds can be removed as soon as they are spotted, if they arc taken out with great care, or let alone until the seedlings arc well sprouted.
Markers and records
Whether the seeds are started in a bed, in a permanent planting, or in a pot, it is a good practice to stick a marker in the ground alongside them, writing on it the variety and date of planting, and later adding the date of the first bloom. An ordinary stick of wood will do for a label, and the data may be written in pencil. Simply bear down hard; thus the lead indents the wood and stormy weather will not wash out the legends.
Keeping a record is simple efficiency. The gardener who has preserved the data on an especially successful sowing will not have to scratch his head the next year and wonder: "Now what did I do with this last time." Improving your skill as a gardener is one of the pleasures of gardening.
Moisture, oxygen, and the correct amount of heat control the germination of seeds, some finding a high temperature (80 to 90 degrees) best for coming to life, others favoring a low temperature (40 to 60 degrees). Most seeds germinate satisfactorily in soil temperature of 65 to 70 degrees and air temperature of 60 degrees. Most seeds also achieve best growth in soil with slight, rather than excessive, moisture.
Fist test for workable soil
Here is a good and simple soil moisture test: Take a handful of soil and press it gently in your fist, then open your fingers. If the soil acts like a hunk of putty, stays in the shape into which it has been squeezed, retains the impression of your fingers, it is too moist. If, however, when you open your hand, the lump of soil expands and falls apart, it is well aerated and fine for sowing seed.
Guard seedbeds against extremes of moisture.
Most seeds germinate more rapidly and completely in varying temperature than in constant temperature. Normally a sufficient variation is supplied by the natural warming of the soil by day and its cooling out at night. These temperature changes are less easily controlled than moisture variations, but hotbeds and coldframes create a perceptibly alternating temperature.
Putting seed in the ground
Soil should be firmed or compacted around the seed to make sure that it transfers its moisture quickly to the seed. Out-of-doors, the soil in which large seeds are planted may be firmed simply by tramping on it. An effective way in which the gardener may compact the soil containing fine seeds is to place a board over the row and walk In hotbeds, coldframes, and greenhouses, it is a hand operation, and a float is recommended.
A float is simply a 6 by 9 inch section of plank with a handle on it, used like a flatiron.
Correct sowing depths
Under artificial conditions, the general rule for the sowing depth is to bury the seed to the depth of its greatest diameter; out-of-doors the seed should be covered to a depth three to five times its diameter. One inch is a safe depth for seeds the size of a grain of wheat, and 2 inches for those the size of a bean. Fine seeds should be scattered on the surface and the soil firmed with a float.
Hints for seed handling
There are some simple, home methods of preparing the seeds to hasten their germination. Hard-shelled seeds may be soaked overnight in water of room temperature and sown when the shells crack. With seeds such as those of the mallow family, which are difficult to germinate, an overnight soaking in warm milk will accelerate the beginning of the growth.
Some seeds are so tiny that they cannot be handled easily and scattered with economy. With such seeds, as of the double-variety petunia, which are not only extremely fine but expensive as well, it is sound practice to mix them with fine, dry soil, or sand in equal parts, before sowing.
Procedures for transplanting
Transplanting makes plants stocky and gives them a chance to develop an extensive root system. Transplant young seedlings as soon as the first true leaves are formed, and set them some distance from each other. Wet down the seed bed thoroughly an hour before digging up the plants, so that they may be taken out of the soil without breaking the roots.
Make sure that the soil into which the plants are going is moist but not wet; give it the fist test. Plant the seedlings to the same depth they reached in the seed beds. A pointed stick is a good tool for digging the holes. Firm the soil gently about the roots, water the transferred plants carefully at once, and keep them somewhat shaded until root contact has been made. In dark weather shading may not be necessary. Attend the plants carefully until growth begins.
The average plant needs about a 2-inch clearance from its neighbors, but if it is small and slow-growing, such as the pansy, an inch will do. If, however, it grows robustly, as the castor bean, give it 4 inches. In fact, with such robust plants, it is a good idea to sow the seed directly in a pot, not only to give it ample space but to avoid disturbing it. A good tip for economy is to save old strawberry boxes and use them instead of pots.
Selecting the perennials
Although almost all annuals may be started in open ground over a large part of the United States, it is a comparatively rare perennial that will succeed in every section of this country. Nevertheless there are many perennials that flourish in numerous diverse regions, and in every section of the land there are many desirable ones which may be cultivated to excellent results.
A satisfactory perennial must be able to withstand adverse conditions, both surnmer and winter, in the place in which it is grown. Those most likely to succeed, of course, are the plants that are native to the region in which they grow or native to a region with climatic conditions similar to that in which they are growing.
The gardener must select his perennials for adaptability to the region in which he lives, suitability to the type of planting he wishes, and yield of blooms in the season when they are most desired.
Perennials are adapted to a wide range of conditions. Some grow wild, with their roots in soaked land; others are found on rocky hillsides; some in rich bottom lands and others in poor, gravelly soils. And many of them will thrive in conditions far different from those existent in their native habitat. The rose mallow, for example, usually is found in wet places, but, it succeeds in good garden soil which has only average moisture; whereas the columbine, which usually grows on rocky hillsides, may be found almost anywhere else except marshy areas.
Perennials respond to good culture and most of them should be divided and reset every 3 or 4 years. Many of them may be started satisfactorily from seed.
Perennials which have reached their maturity present their blooms weeks ahead of plants grown newly from seed, because in the previous season they have stored up material on which they may draw for a quick start immediately on return of favorable conditions. Having lain dormant out of season, the revival of their blooms gives first signal of the return of flowering time. They respond more readily than even the most responsive trees or shrubs.