Spring is traditionally heralded as the best season for planting seeds, but autumn is an equally propitious moment for this activity.In fact, you can create a new garden – by starting plants from seeds and cuttings – at virtually any time of the year in Southern California.
Just two weeks ago, my sons and I planted a variety of flower and vegetable seeds, most of which have already germinated. In raised beds made from sandy topsoil and Kellogg’s Gromulch, we planted seed packets of love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), oriental poppy (Papaver orientale), Shirley poppy (Papaver rhoeas), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), paludosum daisy (Chrysanthemum paludosum), baby blue eyes (Nemophila insignis), “Sparkler radish,” “Early Wonder” beet and “Danvers Half Long” carrot.
All seeds were sprinkled on the surface of the raised beds and then covered with a thin layer of sphagnum peat moss. When seeds do not germinate, it is usually because they are planted too deeply. To avoid this problem, keep seeds on the soil surface or press them gently into the earth. Peat moss, lightly dusted over seeds, will hold in moisture and prevent newly emerged seedlings from drying out. Do not allow your seeds or young plants to be watered indiscriminately with automatic sprinklers. Ideally, they should be irrigated with the soft streams coming from the multiholed nozzle of a watering can.
When you think of all the money spent to entertain children, seeds are truly a bargain. A packet of flower seeds is available for 99 cents, and a packet of vegetable seeds costs 79 to 89 cents. If you don’t know what to do with the kids on a Sunday afternoon, take them to the nursery, have them pick out a few seed packets and plant them near the front steps, in planter beds or flowerpots. This way, they will see the developing seedling each time they enter and leave the house, hover over their flower and vegetable progeny and gain an early appreciation for the connection between nurturing and growth.
Children seem to take special delight in growing and harvesting root crops – carrot, radish, beet, turnip, parsnip – because of the surprising, hidden life of these buried treasures.
If you have a friend or neighbor with an herb garden, this is a good time of year to pay him or her a visit. Request permission to cut 4- to 6-inch shoot tip cuttings from sage, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, lavender and mint, which can now be stuck in your garden, where they will put down roots and be ready to grow by spring. You could also be the beneficiary of clumps of chives or lemon grass, which, transplanted to your garden, will immediately make themselves feel at home.
“Free Landscape Plants!” by Michael McGroarty, is a small, self-published book which, only 120 pages long, contains everything you need to know about propagation of plants from seeds and cuttings, as well as propagation by division, layering and grafting. The book may be ordered, for $11.95, from Leprechaun Press, 4390 Middle Ridge Road, Perry, Ohio 44081.