The best growing conditions for chia seeds vary depending upon the manner in which you plan to use the seeds or resulting plants. Chia plants are annuals, relatives of both mint and salvia. While several species exist, the chia Salvia hispanica is best known in the United States.
Chia is the same plant made popular through its use in conjunction with Chia Pet products. Chia served as a food crop for the Aztecs and native North American inhabitants. The seeds are gaining popularity with modern Americans because of the nutritional benefits they offer, including high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber and a range of vitamins and minerals.
If you prefer to grow chia plants for sprouts, start the seeds on a soilless medium. You can use any medium that holds moisture, including seed pads or blankets, paper towels, cheesecloth or vermiculite, according to the Sprout People website. This method creates a sprout free of soil for easy harvest. Sparsely broadcast the seeds on the medium. Provide low light levels and a room temperature of approximately 70 degrees F until the seeds germinate, then move the plants to a location with better light, suggests the website.
On a Chia Pet
To grow chia seeds on a Chia Pet, the Joseph Enterprises website recommends soaking 2 tsp. of seeds in 1/4 cup of water for 24 hours. Concurrently, soak the planter in water. Smear the seeds onto the surface of the planter. Keep the planter filled with water. If the seeds do not sprout within three to five days or the air is dry, cover the planter with a plastic bag, but do not allow it to contact the planter, suggests the website.
New Crop Research
Several universities are working to introduce new crop species to encourage plant diversity and offer alternatives to overused plant selections such as corn. The process of growing chia outside of its normal range is still experimental. Studies have been undertaken with several species of chia, including summer and winter types, according to the Purdue University Center for New Crops and Plants Products. Even so, many aspects of raising chia are still unknown, including the lowest winter temperatures under which the plants can survive in some locations. Planting trials have helped researchers develop some general guidelines. Seed winter annual chias in the fall and harvest the plants in early summer. Summer chias do not respond well to cool spring temperatures, so plant them in late spring for harvest in the fall. Do not water chia plants after they flower.
As a Crop
When growing regular chia as a crop, Professor David Hildebrand of the University of Kentucky suggests that an ideal location will offer 12-hour days, full sun and a well-drained soil of moderate fertility. The professor suggests that chia plants prefer a temperature of 86 degrees F and will grow in moderate shade if a site with full sun is not available.
- Purdue University Center for New Crops and Plants Products; Northwestern Argentina Regional Project; Ricardo Ayerza et al.; June 1997
- Purdue University Center for New Crops and Plants Products; Introduction of Chia and Gum Tragacanth in the U.S.; Howard S. Gentry et al.; August 1997
- Sprout People: Chia
- University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service: Chia Pet; Gerald Klingaman; March 2007