I have had two questions running through my mind this week: How well do seed mats work? I'm referring to the "roll and grow" wildflower, herb, and vegetable mixes you see in garden centers or online that cost from $5 - $30 (not those with built-in heat mats nor the mats with grass seed). These seed mats are from 8"-10" wide and 4' - 10' long. Typically there are 8-9 plant varieties included with over 100 seeds in each mat. The seeds are embedded between sheets of a biodegradable material such as wood fiber layers or tisue paper. I checked several seed mat reviews on Amazon and saw an average customer rating of 2.5 out of 5 stars. The main disappointments expressed were a lack of germination, and not as much variety as advertised on the packaging. I thought there must be a more dependable way to plant, yet still have the ease of using a seed mat.
I’ve also wondered how many gardeners buy seed packets and plant only a portion of them, intending to save the remaining seeds for the following year. I have saved several seed packets from the past three years. I wanted to test their viability without taking up valuable “real estate” on my deck garden, so I recycled some clear plastic berry containers (plastic sandwich bags would also work) and used a wet paper towel cut in half to do a germination test.
I started with forget-me-not seeds, a favorite flower during my childhood, and planted the whole pack, expecting that maybe 20% of the older seeds would sprout. I saturated the paper towels with lukewarm water and sprinkled the seeds on the bottom towel, then placed the top towel over the seeds inside the plastic container (total prep time: 30 seconds). Since seeds need warmth and moisture to sprout, I placed the container in a sunny window, and in about 5 days, approximately 90% of the seeds had sprouted.
The seedlings remained in the container for another week as their roots penetrated the paper towel. Not wanting to disturb the tender roots, I took the paper towel (now a mini-seedling mat) outside and placed it on top of a pot filled with potting mix. I misted it each morning and within a couple of days more roots were spreading in the potting mix. I will eventually need to thin out the seedlings, but this was an extremely easy (minimal time and almost no-cost) way to test the viability of older seeds.
I would love to hear other ideas on making and using homemade seed mats and their effectiveness. Meanwhile, I will continue this experiment with other crops to determine whether or not it is an efficient method of germinating older seeds to transfer to a container garden.
Below are some forget-me-not plants that germinated in March. These were purchased in a tiny metal bucket as a growing kit with just a few seeds at Target for $1 – I am anxious to compare the Target flowers to homemade seed mat flowers – stay tuned!
I will close with a couple of pictures from this morning - raindrops on tomato plants growing in our plastic bins. I am thankful that everything seems to be growing very well!
Blessings to you, gardening friends!