Readers have plenty of questions about starting seeds. Here are answers.

OK, mail time. Lots of questions about starting seeds.

First of all, I’ve received notice from my seed-selling friends that there is a seed shortage this year. I have not noticed it here in Alaska, but my sources are pretty reliable. What this means is you should go out and buy the seeds you want now and not just the seeds you are starting indoors. Get the seeds you will plant outdoors too. If I am wrong, so be it. Better flush with seed than sorry. This does not mean you should go overboard and buy tons of seed.

Next, my advice to reuse soil resulted in chickweeds growing in some containers. Yes, using old soil to start new seeds can result in the appearance of weeds. It happens. Fortunately, chickweed and other weed seedlings are easy to remove. Just make sure you don’t drop them back on the soil where they might start growing again.

I am not a believer in sterilizing seeds by putting them into hydrogen peroxide. There are bacteria in and on seeds which are supposed to be there. They help the plant. If you are worried about mildew and damp-off hitting and killing your seedlings, then install a small fan which will keep the air circulating and reduce the chances of your seedlings getting hit.

How about the need to fertilize seedlings? Obviously, this depends on what is in your soil. If it isn’t sterile and contains organic matter, then you probably do not need to fertilize for growth until a day or two before you transplant (to get them off to a good start). Your plants will tell you, however. Yellowing leaves is a key indicator to give your seedlings a bit of diluted microbe food.

Tiny seeds can be hard to handle. I use a sharpened pencil. Dip the tip into water (or simply lick it) and then touch a single seed. It should cling to the pencil lead and drop off when you touch it to soil.

Should you roll your seeds in mycorrhizal fungi? Why not! It won’t hurt and if you use the right kind, it should help your seedlings and the plants they become. How do you know if you have the proper fungi? Google the name of the plant with “What mycorrhizal fungi?” You will want ectomycorrhizal fungi. In addition to rolling seed, mix some into the soil so roots that grow into it will become infected.


Don’t forget to label what you plant. You don’t want to end up with a fantastic set of flowers, for example, and not remember what varieties they are. It is also a good idea to put the date of planting on the label. Make sure to use a label that can withstand the elements and use a permanent ink on it so it won’t wash off.

Finally, it is obvious, but I will mention the importance of reading the seed packet before you plant. Some seeds need special treatment such as exposure to light or scarification. Some seeds take a very long time to germinate. The only way to know this information is to read the planting instructions.

Remember, Lowenfels says you are not a real gardener unless you grow something from seed. Over the next few weeks, there should be at least something that catches your eye and interest. Pick one and do it.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: What are you waiting for? Join. Seed and nursery sales, great gardens, discounts, classes, day camp and so much more. Come on, don’t delay.

Alaska Master Gardeners Annual Conference: April 7 and 8. It’s open to the public in Anchorage this year. Tickets for the Friday night party at the Nave are $50 and the Saturday conference at UAA is $120 (lunch included). See Full-time students can apply for a Student Pass by emailing to

Alaska Pioneer Fruit Growers Grafting Workshop: April 15, Open to the public, Begich Middle School, 1:00 to 2:30pm for grafting instructions. There will be numerous scions from many different apple varieties from which to choose!

Seeds to start: Lobelia (20 days to germinate‚ seeds need light), snapdragons (10 days, seeds need light, cool), carnation (20), Verbena (20), Pelargonium, Salvia, Pansies and it is still not too late for Rhodochiton.

Vegetables to start from seed: Peppers, kale, tomatoes and Brussels sprouts.

Herbs to start from seed: Parsley, thyme, oregano, lavender, lovage, lemon balm.

Tubers to start: Begonias and dahlias.

Corms to start: Gladiolas.

Over-wintered fuchsia and tuberous begonia: Expose to sun, water and grow. Buy tubers but don’t plant yet. Expose to sun. Concave side should be facing up. Lightly spritz with water every few days.

Lawns and dogs: It is never too early to start picking up after Fido before the stuff is no longer frozen.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He is the author of a series of books on organic gardening available at Amazon and elsewhere. He co-hosts the "Teaming With Microbes" podcast.