Sorting out seeds

Even though April is National Gardening Month, in Colorado our planting options are still very limited in mid-April.  At higher elevations, there’s an even longer wait before you can get out and get planting.

What can you do besides general garden clean-up and soil prep?  Sort out the seeds!  Here are some guidelines both for sorting out the old and shopping for the new.

Keep or toss old seeds?

  • Some seeds are longer lived than others.  Watermelon seeds don’t have the vitality that beans usually have, for example.
  • Planting old seeds that don’t germinate can cost you two to three weeks of outdoor growing time before you know the seeds have failed and you need to replant.  That’s time you don’t want to lose in Colorado’s growing season.
  • Best rule of thumb is to check the expiration date on seed packets from past seasons and toss expired seeds.
Another strategy with older seeds is trying them out earlier indoors before planting time to see how many germinate.  That can give you a benchmark for how many you need to plant outdoors.  If only half the old seeds germinate, then you know you should plant twice the normal number.

Can you use seeds harvested from last year’s garden?  The next generation of seeds from hybridized plants is generally less reliable than the fresh seeds you can buy.  Also, as plants cross-pollinate with other garden plants, the mixed-up results land in the seeds-and the next season’s plants.  As a result, this year’s veggies may look a lot different than last year’s.  Keep this in mind if you collected seeds from last year’s garden.

Tips for buying seeds
The seed selection in garden centers and hardware stores is almost overwhelming – and so are the cost variables.  There is no standard unit pricing that helps you compare costs like you can for a quart of milk.

Some packets sell 3 for $1 – and others are $3 per packet.  Some seeds are sold by the ounce and some by grams.  And because some seeds are bigger than others, a few grams of tiny seeds like lettuce, carrots and radishes may be all you need for a season.  Still others, like Atlantic pumpkins, are sold by the count – with a set number of seeds per packet.  Calculating the amount of seeds you get for the price will help sort out the best value.

The good news is that while you can’t comparison shop – like you do for that quart of milk – there are industry standards that govern the quality of seeds sold.  These standards dictate how clean and fresh seeds must be and that they must be sold with an expiration or planting season date.  Consequently, a high price doesn’t necessarily indicate the best quality.  The bottom line is to know the quantity of seeds you need and then, compare weights as best you can for the best dollar value.

Seed planting tips

  • If you want rows of plants, place seeds in garden rows that run east to west.  The east/west orientation gives the sunniest advantage for your crop and more even plant growth.
  • Use seed tape to speed up planting and get uniform spacing.  You can find these seeds in packets similar to loose seeds at garden centers.  Seeds come pre-attached to a paper tape so all you have to do is run the tape down the row and cover it with soil.  Within a few days, the tape disintegrates and the seeds germinate.
  • Place seeds so that when plants mature, the taller-growing plants don’t shade smaller plants.
  • Plant seeds for your early season crop of cool season veggies–like spinach, lettuce, carrots–before the end of April.

May in a Colorado Garden

It’s MAY! The merry, merry month of May. It’s one of my favorite months, although it goes by so fast these days I don’t get to enjoy it, savor it much. We are so busy in May and there’s so many flowers, trees and shrubs to be planted that May is just a blur. But May work (and that it is) brings June and the rest of summer to life.


This year we are early, almost a month early in the flowering season to be sure. We’ve had such dry, warm days and cool nights that the plants are just going crazy. They are truly rejoicing in their glory even though we’ve had so little moisture it is scary. But rain came yesterday, and a shower today and maybe tomorrow too.


What’s left of the wallflowers on the hill are blazing orange (okay, I’m not going to think of that awful ditch company and what they’ve done). The hawthorne is a blaze of double pink blooms outside my window. Not much blooming at the water feature yet, but it’s close, oh so close. What a little bit of moisture will do!


The spring bulbs are almost gone and the ha_l the other night took care of most of the rest of them, but so much else is happening in the garden it’s hard to not just move on to the next blooming thing. The robins have started building their nest in the crook of the downspout, which means little pterodactyls soon. No garden kitty now to watch out for (frown), but that ditch company sure took out a bunch of cover. We’ll have to throw some stuff around the yard for the little guys to hide in.


The spring flowering shrubs were phenomenal this year! The forsythia bloomed for a month it seemed and the lilac scent still lingers after the best year in many for those as well. The seedlings are up and being nutured. It’s time to plant, transplant, move and rearrange.


Next weekend is Mother’s Day and here in Colorado that means we are past the worst of our weather. It doesn’t mean it’s over, just past the last frost date. We can start putting annuals out and the nurseries are popping with beautiful color right now.


We’ve had May Day, Beltane, and a super full moon all in one week. It made for a bit of craziness early in the week, but things have mellowed and last night the moon was beautiful; so close to the earth you could almost touch it. This moon is called the Flower Moon and aptly so. All things growing are flowering in their own right. It’s also called Corn Planting Moon and we should be planting right now.


It’s really fun to plant by the phases of the moon; to see how it was done long years ago before tractors and internet and readily available produce. If you planted on a full moon, the tides would pull the seedlings to the surface. I personally think it was a way to get out of the house while the kids were asleep and let other flowering begin. Some full moons are crazier than others. Is it really the moon or the tides or just our madness, rushing, doing that makes us more crazy at times? No matter, we are now half way between the equinox and the summer solstice and well on our way to a wonderful summer.


Happy summer! Happy planting!