It’s Not To Late To Start Your Seeds.

There is plenty of time for your plants to grow.

Spring is finally here, and if you are like most people now is when you realize its time to start your seeds. No its not too late even if your well organized friends had their seeds all sown and growing starting back in February there is still plenty of time for you to catch up. Starting seeds in early May is pretty common, and if you want to start them by direct sowing then this is the perfect time to buy your seeds. Depending on where you live early spring may still be on the horizon so don’t worry about being late. Seeds are just happy to grow, if you start them later than your friends they don’t care. As long as you look after them and they get to grow its all good with the seeds.

I always felt somewhat envious of those who were so organized that they has their seeds all sown by mid February. Before we bought our first farm I was always late getting the seeds in. In the end though I still got good plants, pretty flowers and good vegetables, maybe some flowered a little later than my organized friends but in the end it all seemed about the same. Now we have a farm I have to get seeds started early but that does not mean that all seeds get started at the right time. There are many reasons to start seeds later.

seedlings_L11. Life. It tends to go on around you keep you busy until suddenly, wow its spring, and we really need to get these seeds in now! This I suspect is the main reason most people don’t get their seeds in early, there is just too much else calling for attention.

2. Suddenly you realize you need more seeds that you sowed. It often happens. You think you only need 6 tomatoes then find you need 12 more seeds to sow.

3. Something was forgotten. Despite all the good planning, the lists, the checking somehow a species were totally overlooked and did not get seeded. Now there is a frantic rush to get the seeds sown. This happens more often than you would think even with professionals.

4. Some seeds come up really fast. Planting things like marigolds in February would be a problem. The things germinate very quickly and grow fast. Therefore such plants don’t need a lot of lead time for indoor planting. While other plants take a long time to germinate or are very slow to grow and need more time, these fast growers can be left and seeded much later.

5. The first seeds planted did not come up. This can happen for many reasons. It may be they were planted too deep, not watered properly, got a fungal disease or that the seed was not in good condition when it was purchased. See How Are Your Seeds Cared For Before You Get Them? I still have this problem at times since to get new plants and varieties to offer to you I need to buy from overseas sources then grow them to be organic before I can offer them to you. Not all the seeds that we get have been treated very well and they don’t always germinate. (which is a real pain if you have waited 6 months to get the darn things). This is why I always recommend that if you have quite a few seeds don’t plant them all at once. Then if something does go wrong you have a second chance to get it right.

6. Seeds came up then died for some reason, perhaps they were over watered, under watered did not get enough light, the cat sat on them (it happens more often than you think). Now you have to start those seeds all over again. Try to figure out why they died and not repeat the process. Put netting or something around the seed trays to stop the cat jumping on them. If you had seeds and got up one morning to find all that was left were little stalks, check under and around the tray for a slug. They come up in the night and mow down little seedlings.

6. Other reasons, could be anything the world if full of stuff to do and seeds are just one of them.

Cape Gooseberry seedlings
Cape Gooseberry seedlings

No matter what the reason there is always time to start more seeds. For some plants direct seeding is the best way to go anyway. Large seeds like beans, peas, okra, giant sunflowers are best direct sown as are things like Calendula and cilantro. Other plants need to be coddled a long time before they are put in the ground since they grow so slowly. No matter what time you start your seeds as long as you look after them then it’s the right time to start them. While its true that starting tomato seeds in August wont get you a crop starting them now will give you tomatoes later in the year than those who started early. If you eat a lot of some crops then starting seeds at different times makes sense anyway as it will space out your crop giving you more food or flowers for a longer period of time.

So don’t be deterred by those who started early and tell you its too late now. Its not. Seeding now is a perfect time. We are still seeding and so should you. Garden in your own time. Be creative and do your own thing.

For details on how to start seeds see. It’s time to start your seeds.


Best ingredients for mixes and what to look for.

There are lots of products on the market today made to start your seeds in. There are even more potting mixes to move you little plants into. Some are great, some are good and some not so much. How do you decide which is the best for you?

First we need to understand what a little seed needs to grow best.
1. Particle size.
Small particles so that little seed does not have to push through large clumps to get its shoot up to the surface and its roots in the mix.
Think how you feel when you wake up in the morning. Warm sleepy don’t want to get out of bed. Most people feel that way, but you push the covers back and swing yourself out of bed. That’s what it should be like.
Now imagine if you woke up with a few boulders and giant lumps of stuff sitting on your chest. First you need to push these out of the way before you can even think of getting the covers off and getting out of bed. Think you might be unhappy about that. Think you are going to be late to work that day? You bet.

This is how a little seed would feel. In a fine light potting mix it can stretch, yawn, the push out its little roots and raise its shoot to the light above no problem.
If the mix is heavy and has large pieces in it, that seed has to fight to get around them. Its harder for it to put out roots is has to find a path between the ‘boulders’ to push the roots. It has to work hard to get that shoot up to the surface. Its going to take a lot longer to grow in any way. If the boulders are too big and heavy it may be far to much for the little seed and it may die in the attempt.

2. Water.
Obviously seeds and plants need water to grow. Therefore its important that the starting mix holds water well so there is plenty available for the little seeds roots to take up without being waterlogged which can lead to fungal growth that can kill little roots very fast.

3. Air
Roots need air too, they breath just as much as the shoots do. This is why many plants don’t do well in waterlogged or very compacted soil. There is no air and the roots cant breath. Good soil and seeding mixes have lots of air spaces in them to keep air around for the roots to breath. Therefore its very important that the seeding mix is not to heavy so it collapses the tiny air pockets or hold to much water and drown the roots.


Most seeding mixes are made of very similar materials. Its how they are combined and in what quantities that is most important.

1. Peat Moss.

peat moss
peat moss

For the most part I am against using peat moss because its not a renewable resource. The one exception is for seeding mixes where it is certainly the best option to use. It is certainly a wonderful organic compound its light and it absorbs a great deal of water. It is the basis for almost all seeding starter mixes. The best ones use a very finely milled peat moss which makes it perfect for little seeds. Ones that use a harsher milled mix might be OK but often the particles are too large making it harder for small seeds to grow quickly and easily. Finely milled mixes are also easier to use in small individual cell seeding trays and they hold water well.

2. Perlite.


This is that white stuff you see in almost all mixes. Its actually a natural glass, another non renewable resource. Its formed from natural glass and heat, so it’s the popcorn of glass. In the same way that popcorn is much lighter and fluffier than the corn kernel kind of like popped glass just like popcorn. This means that it has a really big surface area with lots of holes for air to get trapped in for nutrients to be held in until the plant needs it. It helps to retain water so that the mix does not dry out as fast. In its natural state it is sterile so will not bring any diseases to new seedlings. Perlite is used a lot in horticulture and is a major component of a almost all seeding mixes. This lightweight bright white rock is often mistaken by consumers for polystyrene, and some cheap potting mixes in fact do use polystyrene instead of Perlite. This is a cheap trick as polystyrene has none of the good properties of perlite its just there to bulk out the material and fool the consumer.
The white color of perlite also helps to reflect light back off the seeding mix, this helps to keep the soil temperature down and reflect light back onto the growing seedlings.
The major disadvantage of perlite is that it is very light, so it can float to the surface if there is too much water or rain. If mixed with soil after a heavy rainstorm perlite often rises to the surface and floats away in large collections. This can be unsightly in the garden and is obviously no use to the soil at all. Use perlite in seeding mixes but keep it out of the garden mixes.

Perlite comes in many sizes from extra coarse to very fine. Good seeding mixes use a finely milled perlite to give a good fine mix with the milled peat moss and other ingredients. Don’t use a mix with a course perlite for starting seedlings to little seeds there are like giant lightweight boulders.

3. Vermiculite.

vermiculite medium
vermiculite medium

This is also a expanded mineral. Vermiculite is an aluminum-iron-magnesium silicate that forms shiny sheets rather like mica with which it is often confused. It is shiny gold brown in color. When vermiculite is heated the sheets expand or ‘exfoliate’ to form elongated concertina like particles which are lightweight, incombustible, compressible, highly absorbent, and non-reactive. The particles look like shiny fluffy puff pastry and in this state vermiculite can hold up to 4 times its volume in water. The really nice thing is that they are very attractive to cations and have a very high exchange capacity because of the surface chemistry. For your plant this means it is able to have access to a range of minerals especially calcium, magnesium and potassium as well as ammonium which are essential for good healthy growth. Instead of these minerals being washed out of the soil mix the vermiculite attracts them and holds them until the plant roots can access them.

Both perlite and vermiculite are pH neutral (around 7.0) and they are sterile making them excellent choices for potting mixes.

Many potting mixes have just these three things in them and mixed in the right quantities this is pretty ideal. Most plants do very well starting in such a mix.


Shredded bark or shredded wood.shredded bark/wood chips
Some mixes contain shredded bark or bark mulch. This can be fine depending on a few things.
1. Preferably it’s not pine bark. This usually contains too much acid and can throw off the pH of the soil mix. Most plants don’t like a high pH so its good to get something that is neutral. If you do use a mulch contain pine bark ensure that is has been pH balanced to about 7. If not then pass it by.

more finely shredded bark, is more suitable for potting mixes
more finely shredded bark, is more suitable for potting mixes

2. Its shredded quite fine. If it has large bits and twigs in it then its not going to be too good for the plants. When I think of large here I mean something about ½” ( cm) long or more. If its over an inch then its definitely a big problem. Large pieces are just like giant boulders to a little plant root. It means they have to struggle around them and cant create the root structure that they really need. The large bark segments don’t offer that much aeration of the soil either. Perlite is a much better option. If pieces are too large then they tend to float when water is added and rise to the surface of the mix. This creates more of a barrier for the little plant to fight through when its trying to grow.

3. It’s been sterilized before the mix was made up. Wood more so than bark has lots of hole in it (like lots of little drinking straws) so there is plenty of space for water retention but those holes have been part of a tree that could have been in contact with millions of different bacterial, fungi and other possible pests. You don’t want to bring that into your mixes when starting little plants. Good potting mixes heat sterilize their ingredients before making up the mix. Check the bag to make sure it’s a sterile mix before buying it.

4. The material is well rotted down. If the bark or wood chips are not rotted down first then when the bacterial and fungi arrive (and the will arrive no matter where you put your mix) they are going to attack the chips for food. To do this they need food too and this will suck up any Nitrogen that is in the mix for the bacteria to use and take it away from the little growing plants. A well rotted mix is essential for good seedling growing.

Coconut Coir Fiber
coconut-coirThis the fiber found between the husk and the fruit of the coconut. Most gardeners are familiar with it for use in hanging basket liners or biodegradable pots. However more recently it is being ground up into much finer mulch and used to replace peat moss in potting mixes.
These fibers are a very good material for several reasons.
They hold about nine times their weight in water so they will keep the mixes nice and moist for longer periods. Once saturated the rest of the water drains away so the mix is not waterlogged. The only downside is getting the fibers fully saturated in the first place can take some time so the mix needs to be well watered before you put any seeds in it. Most good potting mixes come slightly moist to help alleviate this problem.
The major problem is that if it does dry out then it takes a long time to rehydrate it, by which time your poor little plant will be dead. If watering is done on a consistent basis this should not be a problem. However if you intend to combine it with your garden soil later in the year be aware that it drying out could be detrimental to your soil.

Grades or coconut Coir Fiber.
Just like peat moss coir fiber comes in different grades, course and fine. For starting seeds the fine grade is essential since it is milled so that the fibers are small and easy for little seeds to deal with. The coarse grade has much longer fibers and should only be used in potting on mixes.

Concerns about safely and sustainability coconut Coir Fiber.
While at one time using coconut products would have been considered a good renewable resource this may no longer be the case. With Lethal Yellowing Disease decimating and killing off so many coconut trees around the world soon it may be far more difficult to get any coconut products. Many countries have seen devastating losses of up to 85% of their coconut palms. There is no cure for the disease and trails to find resistant varieties are slow due to the slow growing nature of palms. However most trials have not found a good resistant variety so far just some that succumb more slowly. The only treatment for the disease is to inject the trees with antibiotics. After such treatment the coconuts are no longer fit to be eaten and any fibers that are produced from these fruits should not be used in potting mixes that will be used for food plants as the antibiotics could easily be transferred to the new plants.

The upshot is that using coconut fiber is now becoming suspect since there is no way of knowing if your fiber has been treated with antibiotics. I don’t like to recommend mixes using this fiber.

well rotted and screened compost
well rotted and screened compost

The word compost embraces many different things. For simplicity here I will describe it as ‘any organic material that has been broken down into fine rich particles.’ This material could come from other plants, wood chips, weeds, straw, cow manure, horse manure almost any plant source or plant grazing animal waste.
No matter what material is used before it is incorporated into soil and especially into potting mixes there are a few basic rules that should apply.

1. It should be very well broken down. There should not be any large particles at all. The material should look like rich black soil.
2. It is STERILIZED! Before adding any compost to a potting mix it must be sterilized. Compost is made by bacteria, fungi and other organisms feeding on the organic material. This is basically their waste product. However in its ‘raw’ state it’s still going to be full of all those organisms. This is good, if you want it in the garden. If you want to start seeds or little plants in it then it’s not. You can have all kinds of problems.
The most common ones would be.

1. Bugs. Little flies, maggots or any other unpleasant pests. They will have laid their eggs in the compost, mostly because it’s rich and it’s warm. Then later they hatch all over your seedlings. Not a good start to life. This is especially a pain if your seeds are in the house.

2. Fungi and bacteria. With improperly or unsterilized mixes you can get ‘mushrooms’ growing in your seeding mix, or you can get a fine white film growing over the top of the soil as the fungi feeds on the material that was only half sterilized. In either case its not good new for you little seedling.

It’s not always easy to tell if your mix has been sterilized or not. I have certainly had many mixes that are available in big box stores come in with little round egg case balls festooning the mix. Sadly ‘miracle grow’ mix does seem to be one of the worst culprits for this. In most cases the eggs have been killed but to my mind they should never have been there in the first place!

For the best growing results for small seeds and plants we suggest you don’t pick one with compost in it. Mostly because you can never be sure that it has been treated property and you will not be importing more problems into your home. Leave the compost for outside and incorporation into the soil not in pots.

Polystyrene balls.
Some very cheap mixes use little polystyrene balls in their mix instead of perlite. This is a terrible idea. They think you wont notice the difference since they are both light and white in color. The problem is that polystyrene does nothing for the plants it just bulks out the mix for the manufacturer so you think you are getting more for your money while all you are doing is lining their pockets with case. The polystyrene does not have the open weave of the perlite it does not hold water or do anything good at all. Even worse it floats to the surface when you water it. Look closely at the mix before you buy. Never buy one with polystyrene.

Egg cases, little translucent balls or other suspect material.
Not all egg cases are visible, the worst ones with tiny flies and fungus gnats are never visible. Sometimes you will find mixes with small translucent balls about 1/8” across. These too are egg sacs. If you see anything suspect don’t buy the mix, even if its on sale. Its not worth the hassle you will have later.


Finely milled seeding mix
Finely milled seeding mix

The best ones contain the above combination (peat moss, perlite and vermiculite) but milled very fine. This ensures that the seedlings don’t have any huge boulders to try and grow around but there is good aeration of the media with lots of space for water retention. Starting with perlite and vermiculite will get a fairly sterile mix and its very uncommon for peat moss not to be also. This is essential for seeding. You don’t want weed seeds, fungi, bacteria or other things in it to attack the little seedlings as they are growing. SO don’t reuse seeding mix use it once out of the bag then any failed seeds use it somewhere else or mix it in the garden. Never reuse it for seedlings. Its OK for potting on IF it is mixed with other things too but not alone.
Some seeding mixes also contain some plant food. This can be considered desirable but its just as easy to feed the seeds yourself once they start to grow. The amounts in the mix wont last long on the seedlings anyway so you will still have to feed them. Its not worth paying much extra for food in the mix when you need to feed them anyway.

Potting mixes.

potting mix
potting mix. This one is made of perlite, vermiuculite and mushroom compost

These can contain other things but the staples of perlite, vermiculite and peat moss. A good potting mix will often have a nice compost incorporated into it. The mix should still be fairly fine. If you can see larger pieces of wood chips pass it buy. Read the bag see if it states that its sterile.



Yes I know the bags are sealed but there is usually one that is not. If not stick your finger in the end and pull a little out anyway. Its vitally important that you know what you are buying. If you don’t look you may end up carrying home a lot of polystyrene, bugs or wood chips. Always inspect the mix before you buy it and make sure you are satisfied with the composition. If possible buy your mixes from a good garden center or commercial store. NOT from a big box store. These places often carry cheaper materials but they are cheaper because they have not been treated properly. YOU are investing effort into starting your seeds make sure its not wasted by buying an inferior mix.
Once you find a brand you like, stick with it. You will be happier that way.

Give your seeds and little plants the best start they can have, they will reward you with better plants.

How to Protect your plant from late winter cold snaps.

Unusually early plant growth is susceptible to changes in the weather.

It’s been an usual winter, the temperatures have been high across quite a bit of the country. Here in the northeast its been in the high 60’s low 70’s for almost a week.

The plants think its spring!

Warm weather brought the lovely Japanese Apricot tree into bloom way to early.
Warm weather brought the lovely Japanese Apricot tree into bloom way to early.

Lots of plants are starting to come out of their winter hibernation and starting to show growth. Others are even flowering. For us our beautiful Japanese Apricots are in full bloom. If you have never seen one of these fairly rare trees you are missing out. Their blooms are wonderful. Trouble is this year they think its spring and its not. Blooming in the sunshine of 70° weather is one thing but then the temperatures are going to drop down below freezing overnight. You may have the same problem.

What to do about it?

Low Ground plants. Close to the ground and showing shoots early can be covered in mulch to keep them warm during the cold temperatures. You may want to move the mulch back again if the temperatures rise again or it will force them higher sooner to get around it. Then you will need more mulch for the next cold snap, it’s a vicious cycle.

Medium sized plants that are flowering or budding.
If they are small enough cover them with plastic grocery bags. I had to do this one year when we had a late cold snap and all my impatiens were in. The garden was festooned with plastic bags, but hey the plants survived. You can do the same, just cover the plant with the bag weigh it down with a few stones and presto a mini greenhouse. Remove the bags when the temperatures rise.

Larger plants can be treated the same way if you have a bag that is big enough. Use plastic garbage bags. Its best to use white or light colored ones DON’T use black ones unless you get the bag off early the next morning. Black will heat up fast and can fry the plants inside if they are not removed. Same will go for transparent ones if they are left in full sunshine.

Trees and other large plants.
Well if it’s a big tree there is nothing you can do. Our maple trees are flowering but they just have to take their chances there is nothing to do for a big tree.
Smaller trees can be covered in fabric. You can buy row covering fabric sometimes called floating row cover. Don’t get the really thin stuff it tears easily and is a waste of money. Get something a little tougher and either wrap the tree or if you have a sewing machine turn it into a large bag that can be dropped over the tree and tied around the trunk. That’s what we did for our apricots. It was a two man job to get the things sown as there was so much fabric it keep trying to pull out of the sowing machine, but with one person holding and the other sewing it was pretty easy. If you are a sewer and intend to do this, use clothes pegs to hold the fabric together not sewing pins, it’s a lot easier to work with.

Japanese Apricot tree covered in bag made of plant protection fabric
Japanese Apricot tree covered in bag made of plant protection fabric

Floating row fabric is fairly inexpensive but you need to buy it in advance so you are ready to use it. Greenhouse megastore has a nice selection. You may need to buy more than you need as it comes in fixed lengths but its fairly inexpensive. Once you have some its easy to get out and use every year and you will be happy you did, its got all kinds of uses to keep the plants warmer in cold snaps or extend the season a little in the fall. Its always good to have some on hand. We buy it by the roll so we have enough to do any job on the farm in a hurry.

If you don’t have any row cover any kind of fairly lightweight fabric will do. Old sheets, curtains and such like can be put to use. Its never a good idea to throw out old sheets they can be easily pressed into service as plant covers. We used to do this all the time before we bought real row cover. If you have nothing on hand see if there is an inexpensive fabric store near you. Some Wal-Mart’s still have cheap fabric available. So it might have transformers or ninja turtles on it the plants don’t care. Keep the fabric around it will last for years and keep your plants warm and cozy during cold snaps. Fabric needs to be tightly woven if you can see through it or it has an open weave then it wont do the job. If possible pick a lighter color but any color will do. If you buy a bolt of it you can just wrap it around the tree to cover it all up. I used fabric and old sheets for years before we bought row cover its more expensive to buy fabric but if you need it in a hurry it’s the best option. Now I have too much that needs protection to use fabric and buy row cover by the roll.

If it gets REALLY cold.

Japanese Apricot tree now wrapped in white plastic to protect it from the late snowfalls and frigid temperatures.
Japanese Apricot tree now wrapped in white plastic to protect it from the late snowfalls and frigid temperatures.

Most of the time once plants have begun to flower the temperatures just go down a little below freezing. However if the temperatures go down a LOT then the fabric might not be enough to keep those precious plants warm. Then you certainly need plastic for the job. If you live in an area where there are commercial nurseries you will notice that their hoop houses are all covered in white plastic for the winter months. This is to keep their plant pots from freezing. This is the kind of thing you need to do for your plants. The same methods described above can be used to cover plants in plastic rather than fabric.
You need white or light colored plastic to let the light in. Not black the poor plant gets no light, and not clear. Putting the plant in a transparent plastic bag will get it really hot in the sunshine and encourage it to grow and bloom even more. Then it will be really out of sync with the ‘real’ world temperatures and may go into shock if you take the bag off at the wrong time.
We use the white plastic left over from our winter hoop house to cover individual trees. This was our first year doing this and our design needs a little more work but it’s a good start. Most years hopefully we wont get such massive swings in temperature as to need to do this.

If you are in a hurry.
Head to home depot and pick up some of their thin white plastic drop cloths. These are ideal for short term plastic fabric. Ideally you need something a little thicker but they will work well for a while. The major problem is that they are very thin so if the wind blows you could get holes poked in them by plant twigs and branches.

If you are covering bushes or small trees make sure that you either take the coverings off when the sun comes out and the temperatures rise or at least open the bags up so that the air can get in and the plant does not get too hot. While white plastic will keep plants a lot cooler than transparent it can still get hot under there when the full sun is hitting it. Remove the covering when temperatures rise to a reasonable night time level, but be ready to put them back on again if the temperatures fall again.
With a little care plants can be coddled through this strange weather and come out in spring with no harm done.

How to Protect your plant from late winter cold snaps.
How to Protect your plant from late winter cold snaps.

Its Time To Start Your Seeds!

How to start seeds to get the best possible plants.

Getting a head start on winter is important when starting seeds. Most people dont realize just how soon they need to start them. IN most cases thats around the end of February to Early March. It may be later if you live in zone 5 or above and earlier if you live in zone 8 or more.

Always read the label.
Good seed companies will print important instructions about each seed on the seed packet. Excellent seed companies will send you an general instruction sheet and specific ones for seeds that need special care or treatment. Its very important to always read the instructions before you plant a seed. This way you wont be disappointed when the seed fails to come up. If you have a seed that needs light to germinate and you cover it then nothing is going to happen. If it needs soaking or roughing up first and you dont do this you may get some germination but not that much. If it needs stratifying and you dont carry this out then all you get is bare soil. So read the instructions before you start. Good seed companies let you know before you buy the seed if it needs special treatment so make sure you read any information on the website about how to grow the seeds before you buy it so you dont get a nasty shock when the instructions arrive.

Preparing to plant your seeds.
How the seed is treated is going to depend on several factors one of which is how large the seed is. Large seeds like beans, peas and such like will either need their own individual pot to start in or will be planted directly in the ground. Things like beans and peas do well sown directly other large seeds may need a little more help and need to be sown indoors first. Small to very tiny seeds will need extra care since handling them is a much tougher job. For this reason there are several different ways to grow seeds.

Seeding containers.
Most people tend to grow all their seeds in flats. This can be fine but it has severe limitations.
Its very hard to remove some of the seedlings without disturbing the others.
1. If some seeds have germinated and others have not yet done so then the ungerminated ones get massively disturbed when the germinated ones are removed. This means the others may now never germinate and your seed count just went way down.
2. New seedlings often the roots get all tangled around each other so its hard to separate one seedling from another. This damages either the roots or the stem of the little plant. Once the stem of the seedling has been snapped its a goner. There is nothing you can do to save it. Lots of plants are killed this way because separating them is such a problem.

Cell or plug trays.

Small cell plug tray. This tray has 288 cells. Used for small to small-medium seeds.
Small cell plug tray. This tray has 288 cells. Used for small to small-medium seeds.

Using individual cell trays removes these problems. These trays are like flats but they are made up of small cells they are often called plug trays. Trays come in many different sizes so the correct size cell can be selected for different size seeds. Small cells can be used for tiny seeds and large cells for bigger seeds.
1. Each seed can have its own individual cell to grow in, or if the seeds are very tiny two or more per cell.
2. As seedlings grow they can be removed individually and potted on without disturbing the other seeds.
3. Lots of different seeds can be sown in the same tray without any problems with them getting mixed together.
4. trays are easy to work with and move around.
1. Cells dry out fairly quickly since there is only a small amount of soil in each one, especially in the tiny ones. This means that they need to be watered far more often. Cells at either end of the tray are very susceptible to drying out and its often best not to plant these end rows. Though they should be filled with seeding mix.

Seeding compost.
When starting seeds its important to use a good seed starting compost, not any old compost and certainly not the soil you scraped up from your garden. Its important to give your seeds the best possible start in life. That means a soil that is devoid of any weed seeds which would certainly be in soil you scraped up outside. You need something that it is easy for them to grow in that holds water well, does not dry out too fast and has small enough particles that the little seeds dont have to fight around large clumps or small rocks to get to the surface and grow.
Many places sell seeding compost. Look for one that has a balanced mix of components. You may need to try out several different ones before you find one that you like the best but then stick to that one.


Large seeds.
These are the really easy ones. If your seeds are the size of a pea then plant them in individual pots. Seeds this size dont need a really fine potting soil and regular potting soil can be used. Still dont use soil from outside as it will bring in weed seeds. There are two methods you can use.
1. Fill all the pots first
2. Water them and let them drain
3. Poke a small hole in the compost and drop the seed in, cover it. Dont plant too deeply!

1. Fill the pots less about  soil.
2. Put a seed in each pot
3. Add the rest of the compost
4. water well and let pots drain.

Personally I prefer the first method, I find it easier to do but its your choice.

Filling your seeding trays.

All other seeds need to be planted in seeding trays, flats or individual cell trays. Cell trays come in many different sizes with different size cells. We use two different ones, small cells for tiny seeds and ones with 2 cells for larger seeds. Whatever receptacle you use it needs to be filled properly with seeding mix.

1. Spread the seeding mix over the tray and push it into each individual cell. The best way to do this is to pile a good layer of the material on top of the tray then get a identical tray and fit it on top to press the mix down into the cells. You may need to use two or more trays together if the trays you use are flimsy to get enough strength.

Half filled seeding flat. Used identical tray to push seeding mix into the cells. Needs more mix and repeat.
Half filled seeding flat. Used identical tray to push seeding mix into the cells. Needs more mix and repeat.

Once the mix is pressed down, add a second layer and repeat. Then its time to get in with your hands and make sure that the soil is really firmed down well. Fingers are always the best judge of how much mix is pushed down into the tray.
2. Water the mix. Using the spray option on your kitchen facet is ideal. Allow the trays to drain and the water to be fully taken up by the mix before you proceed.
3. Firm the soil down again. Often its very fluffy until its wet then suddenly you find there is very little soil in the cell or tray at all. If there is not enough soil then add more and re-water it.
4. Fill trays to within  ( cm) of the top of each cell.
5. Plant the seeds. Seed details below.
6. Spread a light layer of soil over the top of the seeds. Before you do this make sure that the seeds you are planting dont need light to germinate if they do then leave this step out.

Adding that top layer of soil.
The best way to do this to ensure that you are not adding too much is to use a sieve. A simple metal one that can be purchased in any dollar store or market stand. Place the potting mix in the sieve then shake it gently over the seed tray like sifting flour. Cover the seeds in a fine gentle fluffy layer. This gives enough mix to cover the seeds without burying them too deeply that they cannot grow. After all in the wild they dont get buried in the ground they just have to hope that they get covered up a bit. So they dont want to be deep. Just lightly covered.

Use a sieve to shake a fine layer of seeding mix onto the top of seeds. This way they are not covered too deeply and you get a good even coating.
Use a sieve to shake a fine layer of seeding mix onto the top of seeds. This way they are not covered too deeply and you get a good even coating.


Medium seeds.
If the seeds are large enough to handle then they can be moved one by one into the cells or placed in rows in your seed tray. In seed trays make sure they are well spaced. Plug trays use one cell per seed. If you have difficulty moving the seeds use a pair of flat ended tweezers to move the seeds around. These are an invaluable tool for any gardener who is seeding.

Trays with larger cells can be used for medium seeds. One or two seeds per cell. These Echinacea seeds are waiting to be covered.
Trays with larger cells can be used for medium seeds. One or two seeds per cell. These Echinacea seeds are waiting to be covered.

Smaller seeds.

Use a stiff folded piece of paper. Seeds will line up in the fold and can easily be dropped exactly where you want them with just a gentle tap.
Use a stiff folded piece of paper. Seeds will line up in the fold and can easily be dropped exactly where you want them with just a gentle tap.

If the seeds are large enough to see but too small to handle then the best way to seed them is with a piece of stiff paper. Take the rectangular paper and fold it down the middle in the long direction. Then tip some of the seeds into the crease in the center of the paper and shake gently. The seeds will line up in a row along the crease. If you then gently tap the paper the seeds will move out one by one and drop into the cells as you move the paper across the tray. This method is pretty accurate and only occasionally does more than one seed fall into a cell. The tweezers can then be used to move it if desired. It can take a few moments practice to get the angle of the paper and the amount of tapping required to move the seeds along one at a time but its a very useful technique and we seed all our trays using this method.

Very small seeds.
Once seeds get to the almost dust like size its harder to use the paper method as they tend to clump together. Some people use the pinch method hoping that pinching and spreading like salt on food will distribute the seeds well but it can cause clumping.

The best way to evenly distribute fine seed it is by using an old pepper shaker. Take a small portion of dry fine sand or loam – do not use beach sand unless you wash and dry it well first as the salt in the sand can affect the seedlings. Pick a sand or loam that is a different color from the seeding mix that you have chosen.

Mix the seeds with a portion of the sand and place in the pepper shaker. Shake well to ensure an even distribution of the seed throughout the sand. Then shake the mixture out across the tray. The sand will ensure a more even distribution and you can see where you have shaken by the sand color.
Make sure you buy a pepper shaker for this purpose dont use the one from the kitchen you wont get it clean again and the family will not be happy with you. Inexpensive shakers can often be found in dollar stores or market stalls.

Planting more than one species in a single tray.
The advantage of plug tray is that you can plant a lot of different seeds in the same tray. This means you can save space if you only have a few seeds. The small plug trays have 288 cells so thats a lot of seeds.
However there are some factors to consider before doing this.
1.Plant the same size seeds in the same tray. Dont put larger seeds with smaller ones.
The larger seeds will grow larger and faster and will shade out the small ones. This means that they may likely die. Plant all the same size seeds together. If using small plug trays it is often advisable to leave one row empty between each species to allow for them growing at different rates and reduce overshadowing.

2. If you have any experience with seeds or can find information on germination times then put all the seeds that germinate at the same rate together. If you have some seeds that germinate in 6 days next to some that dont come up for four weeks then the 6 day ones are going to be pretty big before the others even emerge. This will mean that they could easily be overshadowed for light and will not do anything like as well.

Make sure you label your seeds!
Using plastic plant labels is an excellent way to label seeds. This is especially important if you are planting more than one species in a tray, but even full trays should be labeled with the plant name and the date that it was seeded. This way you can monitor how long seeds take to germinate. Labeling is vitally important. It is surprising how easy it is to forget what you seeded and when especially if you are seeding many things at the same time. Always label your seeds so you dont have to guess what they are later.

Water with a misting spray bottle or the mist setting on a hose nozzle. If you have a lot of seeds but dont want to use a hose pipe purchase a chemical spray bottle. They are sold in almost all garden stores for spraying chemicals on your plants during the summer months. Fill it with plain water and use it to spray your seedlings. Make sure you have one that is dedicated ONLY to this purpose. NEVER use a bottle that has been used for any other reason or you could quickly kill off your plants. These bottles are fairly inexpensive and come in anything from one to 5 gallon sizes. They are ideal for those with quite a few seed trays. This is the method we have used for many years on our farm.

Use a spray bottle to mist seedlings once they are planted.
Use a spray bottle to mist seedlings once they are planted.

Seedlings will need to be sprayed at least once a day. If they are in the sunshine they may need more than this. Small plug trays dry out very quickly so ensure that the seeding mix is always moist, not saturated wet but moist.
We prefer to keep our seeds in open air not in a tent structure that some people recommend. This can often increase fungal growth and make the seeds very prone to damping off fungus.

Once the seedlings are started to grow they will need more water so longer spraying sessions will be needed. When the seedlings reach about one inch high those in cell trays can often be watered using a thin spouted house plant watering can. The roots have bound the soil together enough to stop it floating away and they need more water. Using this method far more water can be delivered to each seedling than with the mist sprayer. Take care however if you have several different species of seeds planted in one tray. If the seeds are not all grown at the same rate then this method is unsuitable.

Once the seedling have reached the second pair of leaf stage add some liquid fertilizer to the spray (or can). The amount of food in seed starting mix is very small and in individual cells it is used up very quickly. Extra feeding at this stage will ensure strong healthy seedlings.

While only some seeds need light to germinate it best to put all the trays in lighted areas immediately they have been seeded. This ensures that they seedlings will get light as soon as they germinate. There are many methods used for lighting.

1. By a window.
This is the most common and easiest method. Place the trays right next to the window as close as you can on a table or flat surface above the window bottom. Do not place them below the level of the window of they will not get enough light. If your table is not high enough find something to put under the legs to raise it up. Use a south or west facing window for the best light. Do not use a north facing window it will be too cold and have very poor light. If you are placing the trays narrow end to the window consider rotating them every few days so that the seeds at the back of the tray get as much light as the ones at the front.

Seed trays in window.
Seed trays in window.

2. Artificial light.
Many people now use grow lights and grow stations to grow their plants. This is an excellent use but if using lights remember that even though they look bright they are not really putting out as much light as you think. The trays need to be very close to the lights. Not more than 12- 18 above the tray. The best systems allow you to raise and lower the lights as the seedlings grow. Putting lights well above the level of the trays is very similar to placing a tray in the center of the room rather than next to the window. Plants see light very differently than we do so what we think is bright to us is not to a plant.

In a Greenhouse.
This of course is the best method of all, but not available to many people. If you have this luxury make sure that it stays warm enough for the seedlings but not so hot that it will fry them when the sun comes out. Greenhouse growing is a whole topic unto itself.

Once your seedlings have grow to a reasonable size you can start potting them on into larger pots. Potting on next month.

How Are Your Seeds Cared For Before You Get Them?

What to look for when buying seeds.

Do you know where your packet of seeds has been? Do you know how they have been treated before you buy them? Are you sure they were treated well so that they will be as viable as they possibly can be when you plant them? If you can’t answer these questions then perhaps it’s not your fault that your seeds did not germinate. It could well be that your seeds were dead when you got them.

I am sure that at one time or another you have bought a packet of seeds, planted them, waited and nothing has happened. For many, they consider that they did something wrong, sometimes you do. Some seeds are finicky about their growing conditions. If they need light to germinate and you covered them, then they wont grow. Its always important to follow the growing instructions for seeds to have success. Some seeds are also very particular about temperature, light, moisture and other factors, but a great many for the most part will grow if you stick them in the ground and water them correctly. That is if you have viable seed to begin with. If your seeds were not treated well before you buy them then they most likely wont grow.
Most seeds are fairly tough. They have a protective coating that helps to keep them moist inside and guard them from the rigors of the world. Most have to endure winters outside and hope they have fallen a an area that is favorable for them to grow the following year. However tough does not mean invulnerable. Treating seeds with care and storing them in the best way to keep them viable for the greatest length of time will help ensure that they will grow into healthy plants. Indeed that they will grow at all.

First lets look at the life of a seed in the wild.
It grows on the mother plant, it ripens and then gets dispersed in some manner. It then falls to the ground and waits. In most cases this means waiting though the cold winter months for spring and moisture to arrive so it can hopefully sprout. The seed lays dormant while it is cold. Therefore storing seeds in a cool to cold environment will keep them in that dormant stage for long periods of time. Indeed this is how all seeds are stored in seed banks the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located high above the arctic circle. Scientists have long known that keeping seeds cold, dark and low humidity will keep them viable for long periods of time. So obviously keeping them under other conditions is not going to be good for their viability.

So where has your seed packet been?
Now let us consider that packet of seeds you might buy in the store. This could be a big box store, hardware store or garden center.
First where is it when you see it? On a rack with lots of other seed packets in a nice warm heated store. It’s stuck up in the air with lots of warm air circulating around it. Is this a good environment for seeds? NO.

Seed rack in store. In bright light, next to card racks and backed by plants. Humidity will be high near the plants and bright light and heat is not ideal for seed viability.
Seed rack in store. In bright light, next to card racks and backed by plants. Humidity will be high near the plants and bright light and heat is not ideal for seed viability.

How long has it been on that rack?
If you are fast you might be able to get to the seeds when they first arrive on the rack. Then they won’t have been out in the warm store for that long. However most people come to get their seeds long after they have been sitting on that rack. How long have they been there, weeks months? All that time in a warm store.

Where is the rack located?
Good stores will put them far inside the store where the temperatures are fairly even, but I have seen many stores put them in windows where the sun beats down on them during the day heating up the seeds, or in the greenhouse section of the garden center.  Is that seed going to be viable when you do plant it? Unless it’s very tough, probably not.

How did your seed packet get to the rack in the first place?
Most likely it came in a truck. Packed in a box. That might be fine but it depends on where that truck has been. Has it been moving through sunny hot climates before it got to your store? It’s possible that box could have been left on the loading dock in the sun for hours, maybe longer getting hotter and hotter. Seeds don’t like that.

This rack is outdoors in bright sunshine! This is just death to seeds!
This rack is outdoors in bright sunshine! This is just death to seeds!

How far has it travelled to get to your local store. Or even your online store?
Don’t assume that the seeds you buy are grown here. Most are not. Most seed companies won’t tell you where their seeds come from and their websites often talk about their garden centers or such like but their seeds are not grown here. A large proportion of seeds come from Holland, Germany, Poland and China. Yes, I was surprised too. Often the seeds are travelling very long distances across oceans before they reach the wholesaler, who may then repackage them into those colorful packets that you buy in the stores. In some instances it’s not even clear what year the seeds were grown in before they reach you.

How was the seed processed and stored to begin with?
A large proportion of seed companies don’t store their seeds in cold conditions. Having been to many different seed conferences and talked to other seed growers I am always shocked to find how they store their seeds. Many small companies just keep them in boxes in their house, others have a commerical building but because they are using it all the time it’s heated. A lot of times these are metal buildings and they get darn hot in the summer months. This might be fine if you can sell your seed on very fast to your buyers but it’s never a good place to keep seed for even a few days.

Is your seed dated?
Surprisingly most seed packets don’t have any kind of date on them.  They don’t even tell you what year the seed you bought was grown in. This means that you could be buying packets that are years old. Just where has that seed packet been stored and for how long? One of the reasons that some seed companies do this is because the seed may be several years old if it has traveled the world before it got to your seed packet. Another is so they can sell on last years stock and not take a loss on seeds that were not so popular. That might be OK to do IF the seeds were stored in the right conditions in the meantime, but most of the time they are not, just stuck in some warehouse somewhere that is usually not climate controlled to keep it cool in the summer.

What Floral Encounters does.
We grow all our own seeds. Yes, we do buy seed to grow, it’s the only way we can get new and different plants to grow. Mostly these won’t be organic when we get them so we need to grow them on at least two years before they are producing organic seeds for us. We have to buy seed from overseas because mostly they are not produced here. Even those times I bought from a ‘local’ dealer I found that the seeds were actually coming from overseas and being sold on by those companies. Surprisingly a large number of seed companies do this.

Once our plants are established we then collect our seed from the field and store it in a cool seed storage barn. Ours is located under dense tree cover so it stays as cool as possible throughout the year. Once the seeds material arrives it may be laid out on racks to fully dry or if already dry stored in bins until we have the time to process it. We then do as much bulk processing as possible. This removes as much large material as we can, then we store the remaining material in a cooler atmosphere.
As soon as we have time the seed will then be sifted to remove as much material as possible from the seed. As we state in are FAQ it takes an enormous amount of effort to remove all the material from the seeds unless many thousands of dollars are spent on seed cleaning machines which we cant yet afford on our little farm.
We remove all the material we can then our seed is stored in bulk in refrigeration units that are designed to keep a constant humidity and temperature. All our seeds remain there until they are sold directly to you.

We package our seeds for each order. This ensures that all the seeds you buy have been stored at the best possible temperature for the longest possible time thus keeping the seeds in the best possible condition before they are sent to you.
We also date our seeds with the year that they were harvested so you know how old the seed you are getting is. In almost all cases we use seed grown in year before so 2016 seed would be used in 2017. Occasionally we use older seed if we did not grow that seed in a particular year or if the harvest failed, which does happen on occasion but its very rare with such a diverse farm. Dating seed ensures that you know exactly how fresh the seed you are getting is and when it was grown.

When shipping our seeds we take all our orders directly to the post office and post them inside the building. This ensures that they stay as cool as possible for as long as we can manage. We don’t place them in hot mail boxes or give them to open air mail carriers. This is especially important during hotter summer months. In this way the seeds we offer are as fresh and viable as they can possibly be.

So our seeds are shipped directly to you from our cooled storage giving them the least possible time in less than idea conditions. So if you buy our seeds you know exactly where they have been and how they were treated until they were sent to you.

We always recommend that you place your seeds in the refrigerator as soon as they arrive and that you keep them their until planting. If you don’t use the whole packet then put the rest back. Use them again next year, they should be fine.

12 Reasons to buy seed to start your plants this year.

Don’t leave it too late to buy your seeds.

1. You get a jump on winter. Instead of waiting until the weather is warm enough to sow our seeds outside we start them during the winter months inside so they are large and hopefully health by time its warm enough to plant them out. So we get larger plants sooner, our gardens have flowers faster and our vegetables are available much earlier.

2. Growing inside in trays gives you complete control over the conditions in which the seeds germinate. Sown outside the seeds have to take their chances that the conditions are right. Inside you have a much higher rate of success and thus more plants than hoping nature will give you what you want. So you get more plants for your money.

3. Many seedlings are small and grow slowly at first. This is far more common with perennial plants than annuals so starting early and giving the plants a good start nursing them to a reasonable size before putting them into the ground gives them a much better chance at survival, it also ensures that they don’t have to complete with a lot of weeds in that first important stage of their lives.

4. You get so much more for your money. A packet of seeds is not expensive it may seem like a lot when you look at those little seeds in the packet, but each one of those little seeds is a potential plant. That ends up as a LOT of plants! A packet of seeds may cost perhaps $2.00 – $4.00 which will give you anywhere from 30 to 200 seeds. A pack of plants in the garden center could cost the same amount of money but you only get 2-6 plants at the most.

two species of seedlings growing in cell trays
two species of seedlings growing in cell trays

5. Beats out the weeds in one of two ways. If you sow seeds early inside then the plants you grow don’t have to compete with weeds as they would if they were direct sown. This gives them a wonderful advantage. Annual flower plants can be planted closer together to form a solid mass of plant cover for the summer months. This ensures that there is much less weeding since the weed seeds don’t have enough light to germinate. It’s a win win.

6. You have a lot more plants to work with. You can make huge displays of color or grow larger amounts of vegetables and make your garden the showpiece of the neighborhood. While your neighbours are buying a six pack or a flat of small flowering plants, for a fraction of that cost you have several dozen flats. This means you have a lot more plants to make a wonderful display of flowers, vegetables or whatever your choice all for a fraction of the cost. Creating mass plantings of flowers is easy an inexpensive.

Mass plantings give great impact and can be inexpensively achieved by growing many plants from on packet of seeds.
Mass plantings give great impact and can be inexpensively achieved by growing many plants from on packet of seeds.

7. You have back-up plants. If you buy a six pack at the garden center, come home, plant them and two or more die. Now you have to go back to the garden center to get more to fill in the spaces. If you grow seeds you can plant group of plants, see how well they do, and if some fail you have more on the sidelines waiting to fill in the spaces. A fail safe backup. Almost any commercial farm works this way. A few plants always die so backups are inserted in their place.

8. Get a lot more choice than your local garden center will offer you. They only have so much space so they can’t offer as wide a range of plants as you can grow from seed. They will sell what is popular and easy. Growing them yourself means you don’t have to have the same plants everyone else does you can have something new and different. You can stand out.

9. You can grow a lot of different plants and produce a much more diverse garden. Instead of just having a couple of flats of the usual plants from the garden center you can have a dozen or more different kinds of plants. You can choose ones that flower at different times or are different colors.

10. Growing plants from seed is a wonderful experience. Watching the little green shoots poke up through the soil and turn into large flowering or fruiting plants is amazing. It’s a great thing to do with children or all ages. It helps to link people to their origins and roots in the soil.

Larger seeds germinating
Larger seeds germinating

11. You can bring spring into the house early. While its still cold and wintery outside the little seedlings inside are coming up and promising an new beginning to the year. Fresh green shoots helps to take away the winter blues.

12. Its fun!

So when its cold outside and the winter snows are falling and the wind blowing. This is the time to hunker down with the seed catalogs or check out the online sites to decide what plants you want to grow this year. Then buy them and start the seeds. If you want to get your jump on winter then you need to start looking at the seed options now. For best results seeds need to be started soon. For us here in the northeast mid to late February is the ideal time to start seeds. Therefore now is the time you need to buy them.


How do I know what zone I live in?

Plant zones are also called Hardiness zones. Basically it’s the temperature at while a plant will survive the cold. Decades of observation and experimentation have shown what temperatures each plant will live, thrive or die in. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) first developed this method but it has since been adopted by many other countries.
What they did was divide the country up into bands of average temperatures so for example zone 7 would be from 0°F (17.8°C) to 10°F (12.2°C). These are the average low temperatures for that area. Of course then it got more complicated and they decided to have 7a and 7b which breaks the zone down a little more finely.
Every plant grows within a certain temperature range is assigned to a the lowest zone in which it will survive. That does not mean that it will flourish wonderfully there but it will survive. When you look at buying a plant most growers and seed companies will list what zone the plant is hardy to. Using this information along with which zone your home is located in you can determine if a specific plant will grow in your area.

The USDA has an excellent website with country wide maps and state maps. You can even put in your zip code and it will tell you what zone you are in.
The climate zones were updated in 2012 to take into account the warmer temperatures that the world has been experiencing in the last two decades. So if you thought you knew what your zone was it’s a good idea to check it again as it might have changed now. Our zone went from 6a to 6b and then on the latest update to 7a with the ever changing maps its looks as if we are creeping closer to 7b!

Other countries have also adopted the USDA idea and have produced zone maps for their own countries. If you search for hardiness zone and your country you should be able to find it.

Higher Or Lower Zone Which Is It?
This can be very confusing. Higher zones refers to a higher number so its hotter. Zone 10 is higher than zone 6. It does not refer to the location on the map so although Maine is ‘higher’ up in the United States it has a low zone number.

Cold Is Not The Only Thing That Determines Plant Growth .
More recently it has been recognized that cold hardiness is not the only factor that should be taken into account when growing plants. Some plant can’t tolerate heat. Examples would be Maral root which is a Siberian native and wont grow in warm climates. Rowan trees are another example they cant tolerate high heat. I have seen magnificent rowan trees in Nova Scotia and Maine but I cant grow them here its too hot.

To that end the American Horticultural Society have created a heat zone map and thousands of plants have been coded to it. Unfortunately since this was created by a non-government body the map is only located on their site and its quite small. If you want more detailed information they ask you to purchase one of their maps. The small map they show is fairly valuable at determining your zone and their site does explain its use in detail. The only drawback is that most nurseries do not code their plant labels to use the heat zone map so you need to look the plant up on the AHS site or a few other sites that do reference this map.

Other Factors.
Zones are not everything. There are many other factors for growing plants. You may live in a very sunny area with a south facing wall that is sheltered from the wind so while you may be in zone 6 you can grow plant there that are listed to zone 7b. Its also possible to create sheltered pockets and grow warmer plants

Plants covered by snow in our field
Plants covered by snow are insulated from the cold air temperatures above. Less borderline plants will die if covered with snow all winter.
Snow cover is also a factor. Snow is a great insulator. If plants are covered in a thick blanket of snow from early winter until the spring they will often survive in lower zones than it is listed for because it was kept warm by the snow all winter. In areas where the snow falls then melts then falls again the plants are subjected to a far more extremes of temperature and need to be much more hardy than in areas where snow persists all winter long. We certainly tend to loose more plants in winters that are very cold when the snow falls and melts than when we have a blanket of snow all winter long.

For the most part perennial plants are always listed with a hardiness zone on the label. Annuals are not since they are expected to die at the end of the season anyway. However many plants that are treated as annuals are not really. A good example is Impatiens which are grown in a large portions of the country since they can tolerate some shade. These plants are treated as annuals and left to die at the end of winter, however they are in fact perennials but they don’t tolerate low temperatures. Brought into the house they will live happily as perennial house plants.

Always check the label for the plants zone.
All the perennials that we sell at Floral encounters have a zone listing with them. Make sure to check the zone listing on any plants that you purchase at your local garden center. Just because they are selling it there and its outside in the summer months does not mean that it will survive the winter months there. Its quite common for garden centers to sell plants that will not survive the winter but neglect to tell the buyer this when they purchase the plant. Always check the label, if it does not say on the label, but cautious it often means it won’t survive winter in your zone.

Feeding wild birds in the winter months.

It gives them much needed food and it gives us entertainment.

Cold winter days are not popular with many people. Yes there are those who claim they love the cold weather, I personally think they are nuts but heck it takes all sorts.
The snow descends, just like here today, it covers the local world in a blanket of white. Normal things suddenly become beautiful there is a tranquility about it. I can be magical, if of course you don’t have to go out to work in it or clean it up. Just looking at it through the window is a pretty wonderful thing to do.

It’s not so much fun for the birds. When the snow comes down it covers up all the possible food sources that they have. It’s at this time that bird feeders are essential for birds, especially little ones who need a lot of energy just to keep from freezing to death. At this time having a bird feeder and feeding the birds can be a very good thing to do. You can save a lot of little lives and have hours of free entertainment as well.

Watching pretty birds at bird feeders can be a surprisingly enjoyable pastime. Even some birds that at first glance may look boring can reveal themselves as quite beautiful when the feathers are seen more closely.

What to feed the birds.
This is going to depend on where you live. Here in North Eastern United States birds will only eat ‘native’ kinds of food. Mostly seeds and suet cakes which are packed with energy they need to keep warm. Wild bird food is available in large sacks from all big box stores, most hardware stores and many other sources. In other areas where it is warmer some birds will also be attracted to fruit and other foods so choosing will depend on the type of birds you want to attract and if they are in your vicinity. Putting out fruit to attract fruit eaters when its snowing is not going to work.

If you live in a city, or parts of Europe birds tend to eat lots of other stuff. Growing up in England my parents fed the birds all the scraps from our table, bread, fat scraps all kinds of things except vegetables. We learnt very fast not to put out fish scraps or the garden was inundated with seagulls very fast (we lived near the sea). We also learned to cut the bread up into small pieces or the rooks would come along and stab a whole bunch of pieces like a barbeque skewer and make off with all the food. My mother loved to feed them mashed potato since they could not scoop up a lot of that in one go. She thought that was delightfully funny. Watching the birds gave them hours of entertainment (remember there was no cable or Netflix in those days).

Large crow picking up as many bread cubes as it can
Large crow picking up as many bread cubes as it can

Here in the Northeast US the birds wont eat any of that, they don’t even eat bread. They will in very cold winters eat lard but they have to be desperate with snow on the ground for several weeks before they even consider it.
If you are just starting out with bird feeding ask others what they find the birds eat. Its no fun putting out table scraps and finding they are still there weeks later. You could end up with rats. Experiment with new materials in small amounts and see if they like them. Even if you are buying specific bird foods is a good idea to try only in small amounts just in case your birds don’t like you offerings.

Platform bird feeder
Platform bird feeder

How to feed the birds.
For the most part its good to use bird feeders. Basically they come in two major forms. Long tall cylinders with individual perches for birds and wider squatter feeders with ledges. Both are equally good. Having one of each is even better as different kinds of birds use each kind of feeder. Our hanging bird feeder is used by nuthatches, tufted titmouse, goldfinches, chickadees and other finches. These birds never use the flatter feeder with the ledge, that is frequented by cardinals, bluejays, grackles, starlings, woodpeckers, and many other birds. Dark eyed junko and mourning doves never use either feeder but prefer to feed on the ground and scratch around for scraps that other birds of dropped. Therefore it’s a good idea to have one of both if you have places to put them. Also scatter some food on the ground to allow those birds that don’t like to get up on the bird feeders to have food too. If there is a lot of snow, scrape some down to a solid layer and put the seed there or it just drops into the snow and the birds cant find it.

Experiment with feeders to find the best ones for you. We started with a fairly small square feeder but soon migrated to a much larger one. At our old even smaller farm we were the only house that fed birds so they came from a great distance and we fed a lot of birds. We got fed up with constantly going outside to fill up our small feeder it got to the point where they would eat it out once a day so a larger feeder that we only had to fill weekly was much better.

Some hanging feeders are specialists for thistle seed. This is fine IF you have thistle feeding birds. We tried one in our old location and never got one bird. If they are not in your area then they cant come to feed. Same thing applies to humming bird feeders, if they don’t live in your area then you wont get visitors.

Downy woodpecker on suet feeder
Downy woodpecker on suet feeder

Suet feeders are good if you live in a location where it stays cold for long periods. However if the temperatures fluctuate quite a lot which they are tending to do now the suet can melt and create nasty grease spots on the ground which can be very unpleasant. This can also attract unwanted ground creates like voles and mice to the ground area. We stopped using suet feeders for this reason.

Placement of feeders.
The ideal place is near a window where you can sit comfortably and watch the birds. Having the feeder away from the house where you cant see it defeats the object of entertainment. Lets face it we want to get something out of the deal not just feed them. The joy of watching them is the best bit.
Long cylinders can be hung from hooks under the soffit of the house close to the window. It will take the birds a while to get used to the movement in the house and not fly away every time you move but after a while they ignore it and you can get a really close up view of the birds. It is also more difficult for squirrels to reach feeders in this position. Not impossible just more difficult.

For larger feeders you can either use a pole with a feeder mounted on the top or hang it from a tree. Be aware that feeders full of seed can get heavy so choose a strong branch to do this. Wrap something around wide around the tree branch before you put the rope or chain up to stop the bark from abrading as this can eventually kill the branch. We use an old piece of clothing to pad the branch first. Also be aware that if you put the feeder in a tree many birds will visit the feeder then fly to a nearby branch with their seed and eat it there. Some use their feet and peck the hull off the seed that way. IF they are sitting on a branch the bark of the branch gets pecked too. Over time if they use the same branch it can damage the bark there and you may have problems with the branches dying back.

Where ever you choose also consider other animals that will be attracted to your seed. Mainly squirrels. Squirrels love bird seed as much as birds do and it can be very entertaining watching them try to figure out how to get to the them. I really did not mind the squirrels using our feeder, to start with, but they do tend to eat a whole feeder full of seed at one time and what they don’t eat they throw on the ground so you end up with a pound or so of seed on the ground and nothing in the feeder. It then gets annoying having to keep filling it up. Keeping the squirrels off the feeders and putting other food out just for them (if you want to fee them) is the best option. However squirrels are very clever and will try all kinds of methods to get to the feeders, don’t underestimate them. They will leap for long distances to get to a feeder. Cones on poles to stop them climbing up works very well provided there are not any trees our house walls close by that they can climb and jump from. A friend put a cone on his feeder and his two squirrels spent a week climbing up a nearby tree and jumping on the cone time after time until the broke it.

Squirrel on our hanging bird feeder.  He leapt from a nearby building (fell a lot before he got it right), to the top of the pole, then slid down to get to the food.
Squirrel on our hanging bird feeder. He leapt from a nearby building (fell a lot before he got it right), to the top of the pole, then slid down to get to the food.

Squirrels will also hang down from branches by their feet to get to feeders. It took ours several months of trying before he figured out how to edge down the roof reach under the eve and down onto the hanging feeder there so he could reach the seed. In the new position on a pole with a cone below it they climb the side of the house and leap out to grab it before they fall.

Thus take care where you put a feeder, anything in a tree will get squirrels. Even if you think it’s a good spot consider that the squirrel is out to beat you. Its always a running battle.

One useful trick is to add cayenne pepper to the bird seed. The birds cant taste it and they don’t care, but most squirrels hate the hot taste and will leave the seed alone. Occasionally you get one that loves the taste of spicy food and will ignore it but its not that common.

Seed debris.
Whatever you put in the feeder you are going to get shells and hulls left on the ground under the feeder. The grass there is going to be scratched up more as the birds scratch for the seeds. The best option is to place it in an area where you are not bothered if you have the best grass then plant a few tough species underneath it, or place it in a flower bed where there are perennials that come up later in the spring. This way the hulls work as mulch and the seed hulls bother no one.

Nuthatch on sunflower feeder in our garden
Nuthatch on sunflower feeder in our garden

Types of seed.
We use unhulled sunflower seeds in our hanging tube feeder. You can get hulled seeds but the speed at which those disappear is amazing and we spent too much time filling the feeder up again. Using unhulled ones slows down the speed at which they can eat them. Many people don’t like them because you get a pile of seed hulls under the feeder. We just planted hostas under the feeders. They don’t come up until after the feeders have been removed in the spring and they hulls act as a great mulch. The hostas do well and we get far fewer weeds.

We use mixed seed in the larger feeder. This allows for the birds to get a variety of seeds. However some birds like only one kind. This tends to be things like blue jays who go after the sunflower seeds and will toss out all the other seed to get to them. If you have a lot of blue jays they will empty your feeder fast to get the sunflowers so you might want to mix in extra ones to keep more food in the feeder rather than on the ground.

How long should you feed the birds.
That depends on how much you enjoy watching them and what other wildlife you have around you. If you love that part of it then you can feed them all year. If you just want winter entertainment and to help feed them in the lean times then take the feeders in during the spring.
If you live in an area where there is other wildlife taking feeders in when spring comes is recommended. Don’t leave feeders out if there are bears in your area they will be attracted. Putting feeders up very high to keep the bears off can often help but like squirrels bears are very clever and will figure out ways to get to your bird seed. For the most part its best to take them down. If you have bears make sure any spare sacks of bird food are kept well away from doors and walls in the garage. If you feed seed they can smell the sacks and may try to get into the garage or shed where you are keeping it. Bears are very strong and can be very destructive.
Also be aware that during warmer months many other animals are active so bird feeders may attract other visitors. Mice and voles will come and eat the seeds under the feeders as will raccoons although they tend to come at night they can often be easily seed especially during a full moon. If your feeders are close to the house you may not want to attract such animals so taking them down in the summer is again recommended.

If you have bears don’t use humming bird feeders either unless you can get them above the height a bear cant reach it. A bear will completely destroy a feeder when trying to get at the sugar syrup.

Grow other food sources during the year.
While birds will eat seeds during the winter months virtually no bird feeds seeds to their young chicks. They use caterpillars, insects and such like. So having a diverse garden with many different plants that attract insects will increase your bird population and give them other things to eat. Growing plants that pollinators and other insects like to use is helpful. Growing plants that produce seeds that birds love to eat will also attract them to your garden. An example is Anise Hyssop, the goldfinches love the seed and often our rows are so festooned with the bright yellow birds that it looks as if the plants are covered in yellow flowers. Providing seed in the garden is a much better way to feed the birds naturally than at a feeder during the year and since they are spread out it does not attract other pest such as mice to the feeders which can happen in summer months.
We had a nest of tent caterpillars in a tree near our patio one year which I intended to remove but never got to it. Once the caterpillars broke from the nest they infested our patio plants, not to eat them but to pupate. However a pair of blue jays spent days picking every single pupa from all the plants on our patio, there were dozens of them but the happy birds found it easy to locate them. Thus they had lots of food for their nestlings and we had a pest free patio.

Keep your garden cheerful in winter with silk flowers.

Brighten the dull season and add more cheer.

Lets face it winter can be pretty bleak. It’s cold, there are no leaves on the trees the plants are not growing. Garden cleanup is as finished as it can be with cold weather upon you. But looking out the window can be depressing. All those lovely flowers have gone.
Well they don’t need to be.
Every summer I have a lovely patio area outside my kitchen window that is bursting with blooms it’s a delight to look at. In winter not so much, its bleak and cold. So fix it.
Adding a few pots of silk flowers can really cheer up the area. Now every time you look out the window there is something bright to look at it brightens up the winter months until spring brings the green back to the world.

Patio area in winter looks dull, depressing and uninviting
Patio area in winter looks dull, depressing and uninviting

The great thing about it is that its easy to do and not very expensive.

All you need is.

  • Empty plant pots. Keeping the ones you got the plants in from the garden center or big box store is always a bonus.
  • Some stones from your garden. Hey who doesn’t have those. Now you actually have a use for them!
  • Some silk flowers. Get them in the dollar store. Its not necessary to use expensive ones just something bright.
  • A can of ‘Great stuff’.Optional- some wire to put through the bottoms of the pots.
  • The wire option can be very useful if you are intending to put the pots onto wire shelving or somewhere else they may fall off easily and could be wired into place.


1. Buy a bunch of silk flowers from the dollar store. The ones that come in mixed bunches on the same stem are the best option as they need less work. However they are not always as easy to come by these days. Whatever have great time choosing as many silk flowers are you like. Its best to pick a few more than you think you will need as its much better to have too many that not enough.
Suggestion. Don’t pick Christmas flowers. It’s tempting just after Christmas to pick all the cheaper Christmas stuff but these flowers are going to be out there until spring. It may look great in December but it looks dated by March. A little holly and maybe one or two poinsettias is OK but for the most part pick spring and summer flowers. You will be happier in the long run.

Can of "great stuff"
Can of “great stuff”

2. Buy a can of ‘Great stuff” See if you can determine just how much you will need for the number of pots and buy a can the right size. Great stuff IS great BUT once you start using a can of it you have to use it all in one go. You cant leave some for later. Once started it works fine but left it sets in the can and is of no further use. So you don’t want to use half a large can when a full small can will do.

Plastic flower pot saved from earlier potting out
Plastic flower pot saved from earlier potting out

3. Sort out some old plastic pots to use. The plastic pots that your last purchase from the garden center or big box store came in is perfect. Use only plastic pots NOT ceramic. They have to stand up to the cold and fluctuating temperatures. Plastic will do this fine. Ceramic will crack over time. They are also more expensive and you don’t want to waste them.
Pick pots that are not too big, unless you intend to do a large planter. Smaller pots are easier to work with and to fill with silk flowers. Pots need to be full of flowers to do their job properly so smaller pots are better. I used 5” (12 cm) pots.

4. Go find some stones. Stones are essential to keep the pots anchored. Pots need to be heavy if left outside or they will blow away in the wind. The heavier you can make a pot the better. So go out and collect as many larger stones as possible. Some people collect up stones from their garden and put them in a pile. Now that pile is finally useful. If not then a scavenger hunt around the garden will be in order. Use larger stones Make sure that they cannot escape through the holes at the bottom of the plastic pots. If stones are that small discard them.
DO NOT use soil! It’s tempting but the great stuff will not bind the soil together and it will leak out the holes at that bottom of the pot as it dries out. Pots can leak soil for years. Trust me I made this mistake with my first set of pots. Don’t make my mistake leave the soil on the ground and use stones.

For those in warmer areas, or if you have had time to plan in advance. You can use concrete to do this job. However if you left it too late and its cold the concrete will not set. Also it’s harder to keep the flowers in the correct upright position until the concrete sets. Thus “great stuff” is the best fast option.

5. Divide up your silk flowers. Decide which flowers are going into each pot and divide them up. If you are intending to do a large planter then it would be best to determine how the flowers will be placed before you begin. Plan out which flowers go where. There will not be much time to change your mind when you start working so figuring out your layout beforehand is essential.

6. Wire. If you are going to put your pots onto wire shelving or in an area where the pots may easily be knocked off then using wire at the base to keep them in position is a good plan. Use a thicker gauge wire. That found in wire coat hangers is ideal. If you have wire ones from the dry clearers perfect (another good way to recycle and reuse). If not buy as spool of similar gauge wire from your local hardware store.


1. OPTIONAL. If using wire cut the wire into lengths depending on the width of the pot and how much you need to wire it down. Usually a 24-36” long piece is ideal. If using a coat hanger cut the looped piece off the top of the hanger and flatten it out.
Thread the wire through two holes along the bottom of the pot. In one side out the other. Make sure that the pot is centered on the wire.

flower pot with stones in it
Fill pot to 3/4 with stones

2. Fill all the pots with stones to about ¾ of the way to the top of the pot. Shake the pots or tap them on the work surface to ensure that the stones are settled well in the pots you don’t want them shifting later.

3. Lay out your flowers ready for each pot. Know exactly what you are going to put where. Check that they will fit where you want them in the pot of stones and cut down the wire stems if necessary.

4. Get your can of “Great stuff” put the thin nozzle on the end and get the can ready to go. If you have not used this stuff before be aware that it will foam up and expand a lot once its in the air so take is slow when using it until you get the hang of it.

5. Stick the nozzle down amongst the stones and gently press the top. The idea is to get the great stuff to stick the stones together. Work it in from several angles using just a little. Once the stones are in place add a little more on the top to fill the pot up almost to the surface.

silk flowers in pot with great stuff
Great stuff fills the pot and hardens quickly around silk flower stalks.

6. Quickly place your silk flowers in the pot and hold them in place. Great stuff sets fast so you will only have moments to do this arrange the flowers as you want them to appear. Remember you can always bend the stems around once they are set in place.

7. Move on to the next pot and repeat the process until you have finished all the pots. Work each pot from start to finish as you wont have long before the “great stuff” sets.  Don’t take too long on each pot or the great stuff can stick in the can and become useless.

8. Once all the pots have set you can bend the flowers around to cover the great stuff in the pots and make the flowers look their best.

9. Place pots around your garden outside your windows where you can see them when you look out and brighten your winter.

Patio decorated with silk flowers looks much more cheerful for winter months. These pots are wired in place or the blow off in strong winds.

When spring comes pots can be taken in and stored until next winter. Once created these silk flower pots will last for years. My first set lasted me ten years before they finally broke apart and had to be replaced.


1. Don’t put pots under downspouts or other areas where lots of water will runoff the roof. The water tends to drop on the plants and freeze then you get silk flowers encased in ice. They don’t last as long this way.

2. If pots are placed in a precarious position or on shelving wiring them down can be an excellent idea. Strong winter winds can lift up pots that you thought were heavy enough and blow them away. Its not fun having to chase them around in the dead of winter. Also if you have pets that might knock them off wiring down might be prudent.

3. If you choose to make a large planter remember first that this is permanent. Once the great stuff is in there you can’t take it out so don’t use a favored planter that you want to use again in summer. If you do want to use a favored planter then choose a separate pot that is just a little smaller and put your display in that, then drop it in the planter. It can then be taken out in spring and replaced until next winter.

4. If using a large planter not as many stones will be necessary. If you fill it with stone you won’t be able to pick it up and move it later. However still don’t use soil as the great stuff will not bind to it and it can cause the display to break up.
A good way to fill a planter is to use layers of polystyrene packing chips or chucks of polystyrene packing that came you’re your last purchase. If doing this test the “great stuff” on your chosen material before you start some products will react with it and may dissolve. DON’T use starch packing chips they will certainly dissolve.
Mix the material with stones and bind it together with the great stuff. Work in layers until you reach the top of the planter. Make sure you use enough stones to give the planter enough weight that it wont be blown over by strong winds but still light enough for you to carry around.
Make sure you experiment with the flowers and decide how you want them arranged in the planter before using the great stuff. You won’t have a lot of time to work once it’s out of the can before it sets.

Let your artistic side roam free and create some bright interest for your garden this winter.

Take care of your trees when putting up Christmas lights.

Don’t put holes in the trees it can cause great harm.

Tree lit for Christmas Season
Beautiful tree lit for Christmas Season

Christmas is here again, and its time to put up all those wonderful Christmas lights that make the season so endearing. Not of course as much fun for the person out in the freezing weather trying to string up the lights.

When putting up your decorations do consider the trees too. Its not that much of a Christmas present for them if you start putting nails, screws or other nasty sharp objects into them. Mostly we don’t think twice about grabbing a nail and thumping it into a tree but it can cause a great deal of damage to some trees. It can even, over time kill the tree.

The bark of the tree is like its skin. If someone stuck you with a sharp object I doubt you would love them for it especially if it was just so they could hang a few decorative lights on you. If your skin is pierced you can get infected. Its why we wash cuts, put Neosporin or some other disinfectant on them and put on a bandage.

Trees don’t have that luxury. They get a hole stuck in them they cant do anything to help themselves. Often the person could be using a nail or a hook that has been hanging around in the garage for goodness knows how long, kicking around in an old box. Heaven knows what’s on the thing but its certainly not clean. Now all the junk is in the tree.
When you nail into a tree you go through its ‘bloodstream’ so any infected particles can be quickly transported to different areas away from the original site.

Tree cracked by having metal screw forced into it.
Tree cracked by having metal screw forced into it. This tree is dying.

Also the bark is now penetrated and other infections can get into the wound. During the summer months most trees can produce more sap (their blood) with their own brand of antibiotics and try and fight off any incoming infections but during the winter months their system is pretty sluggish so they can do much to stifle the wound.
Even if you take the nail or hook out after Christmas – which most people tend not to do – the wound is still there. Come spring when more diseases start waking up there is an open wound to allow them to enter the tree.

Some tree species are stronger than others at dealing with this. In many cases conifer trees can be more susceptible to disease. Maples are less likely to succumb as their sap rises early and contains antibiotics that can help to kill any problems. This is the reason that maple sugaring is able to take place. Although good maple syrup tree tenders do try and keep their trees clean and free of diseases during the summer months and the taps they use are always disinfected to reduce or eliminate infection before they are used.

Tree growing around metal screw
Tree growing around metal screw in an attempt to keep out infections.

Often trees with high saps or gums can cope very well and often will actually grow around the nail or hook if it is left in the tree. This is not only because the tree is growing but because its trying to protect itself and seal the hole that has been created.

In many cases a wounded tree can eventually die. It may take several years but once its compromised then all manner of diseases and insects will turn up to colonize it. In most cases boring insects, ants and other tree attacking insects wont harm a perfectly healthy tree but they will quickly find those that are sick or fighting off some infection and attack. Now suddenly the tree is not just fighting off one little nail hole with a few organisms it dealing with a whole bunch of different things. The tree cant cope with that, it struggles and tries but in the long run it usually looses the battle.

Introducing diseases into trees by making holes has always been a problem, it has never been too serious in many areas. For the most part trees are used to losing a branch now and again or being scraped by animals. They do have some immunity. However in the last decade or so we have seen a great surge in global commerce. Goods are being brought into almost any area from all over the world. Along with those goods come diseases from other countries, either in the wooden packing crates, packing material or just as a dusting on some goods items. These new diseases and insects like their new environment and find trees to their liking that have no immunity to these new invaders. Such diseases can quickly infect wounded trees and in some cases kill very quickly.

So use string, wire clips, anything that does not penetrate the tree bark. If you are hanging something from a branch that will blow in the wind put something around the branch to ensure that the bark does not get rubbed off. Pieces of old hose pipe are often excellent for this job on small branches. Larger ones may need sections of cloth or whatever you have on hand to protect the tree.
If you value your trees don’t put holes in them. Keep them healthy and happy this Christmas season.