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Sources for flower seeds

I've been growing from seed for a few years now and I have tried many sources of flower seeds.

My favorite are mail order suppliers like Thompson and Morgan. Most of them are on-line now, which makes it easier than ever to find and order the seeds you're looking for.

But first, some information on getting ready to plant flower seeds. While early winter is a good time to start perennials that need cold treatment, it's too early to start most annuals. However, it is a good time to buy propagation supplies and send off those on-line and mail orders for seeds. When shopping from a catalogue or online, your most difficult task will be narrowing down the hundreds of tempting choices.

Getting organized for seed-starting

To get growing, you will need soil-less germination mix and propagating kits. I use cell packs in flats with plastic dome lids, but I also reuse three- and four-inch nursery containers.

You can sow into six-packs and plastic deli clamshells. The only requirement for reusing containers is that you wash them clean with soap and water and a little bleach, and that you choose containers that have adequate holes for drainage.

My husband tracks his seeds on an Excel spreadsheet, but I'm not nearly that organized. I just sort through my packets in advance and note the planting dates for each different variety on a calendar.

Most recommendations for sowing dates are given in relation to the last spring frost date. Where I live, this is generally around mid-May. So if the recommended sowing date is six weeks before the last frost, I count back six weeks from May 15 to arrive at the right time, around April 10.

One word of advice: Although it is tempting to get started as soon as your seed packets arrive, don't sow too soon or you could end up with leggy plants ready for the garden long before it is safe to transplant them outside.

For example, if the guidelines suggest sowing four to six weeks before the last frost date, it is actually best to go with the four-week, rather than the six-week date.

Another pitfall is sowing more than you need: In my first season, I sowed an entire packet of foxgloves and ended up with seven dozen plants taking up precious space under my grow lights. By all means, sow a little extra to make sure you get enough plants, but then thin the seedlings out to a manageable number.

Many leftover seeds are viable for several years if stored in a dry, cool, dark place.

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Seed sources for the unusual

One of the best sources for herb and flower seeds and plants in North America is Richters Herbs. They carry an astonishing assortment of seeds of culinary herbs, as well as flowers to beautify your garden. If you are looking for the unusual, chances are good that you will find it at their site.

Gardens North is another unique source for perennial flower seeds. The proprietor, Kristl Walek is a flower seed expert, who offers seeds for scores of hardy perennials for northern gardeners, including many native plants and hard-to-find species and varieties.

Other good sources of flower seeds are the various rock garden societies. Because most rock gardeners grow regular annuals and perennials too, you will find flower seeds for a lot of choice plants, not just alpines. The seed is quite inexpensive, but you do have to join the society to participate in the seed exchange. If you're keen on growing from seed, this is well worth it, even if you're not into alpines and you don't collect seed yourself.

For information on North American rock gardening societies, click on North American Rock Garden Society. The chapter I get flower seeds from is Ontario Rock Garden Society. Its annual "Seedex" offers an excellent choice of alpine and perennial seeds gathered and donated by members.

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