Time to Start Seeds

    • Primroses, in their rainbow of colors, will light up your flower beds and boxes this winter and spring.
    • Pluots are a cross between plums and apricots. Their meaty fruit has a wonderful flavor. Bare root trees can be planted now.
    • Spray for peach leaf curl with copper sulfate. Peach and nectarine trees may suffer from this fungus disease without a protective spray.
    • Plant strawberries now for delicious strawberry shortcake this summer.
    • English daisies are an early-blooming perennial with showy red, pink or white flowers just in time for Valentine’s Day! They will bloom all spring in partial shade.

Starting from Seed

Spring begins early when you start from seed. First there are the decisions to make about what new things to try this year, then there’s the preparation, and the planting and then the fun of watching the magic of those tiny seeds turn into plants. There’s something very rewarding about following the whole life cycle of your plants from start to finish, and trying different varieties from the usual ones you can find at the nursery.

Seed racks at local nurseries and mail-order seed catalogs are full of new types of flowers, vegetables and herbs. For a very small investment, you can grow a whole garden of different varieties.

The essential elements for growing from seed are bright light, bottom heat and moisture. Many seeds will germinate without light, but they must be moved into bright light as soon as they are up. Bottom heat is not essential, but it speeds up the process. Moisture is important, especially for seeds which are germinated on top of the soil. A plastic dome over the flat or pieces of plastic wrap will keep the moisture content just right.

There are two ways to plant the seeds, depending on whether you want to transplant the tiny seedlings or not. You can plant 10 or 15 seeds in a small pot and then transplant each plant into its own pot in about two weeks. Or you can put 2 or 3 seeds in each cell of a 6-pack and remove all but the strongest one after they germinate. It may depend on how large your germinating area is.

Plants can be grown on the windowsill, but you will get stockier, stronger plants if you use fluorescent lights suspended about 4 inches above the pots. They should be left on at least 12 hours a day. Most seeds should be covered with about ¼-inch of potting soil. Water after planting the seeds, and then only water if the top of the soil is dry.

Many perennials do best when planted on top of the soil. Sprinkle the tiny seeds over the moistened seeding mix, spray with water, then cover with plastic wrap. Place under the lights and most seeds will germinate in 5-10 days. In about two weeks, you can remove the plastic wrap then water as needed.

Growing plants need good ventilation. If necessary, set up a small fan to keep the air moving. It is important that your pots and propagation area are clean and sterile. Soak pots briefly in a 10% solution of clorox and water before filling them with bagged seeding mix. Clean pots and moving air will usually prevent “damping off”, a disease that causes young plants to keel over.

When should you start your seeds? Broccoli, cabbage and other cool season vegetables can be started right away along with perennials, pansies and petunias. Wait on tomatoes and peppers for another month, or they will be ready to set out before the frosts are over. Squash, melons and pumpkins can wait until mid-April or May. Corn and beans can be planted directly in the garden in May.

The last thing to remember is not to plant seedlings outside without hardening them off first. It’s best to get them acclimated to it gradually. Some people take them out a little longer every day, starting with an hour the first day. Or you can put them out in a cold frame for a few weeks, lifting the plastic for a few hours a day.

If this is your first try at starting from seed, it might be better to start small. Remember, there is always next year when it comes to gardening!

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