For those of us in the colder climates, we put our gardens to rest long ago. Winter is our time of rest and anticipation. Winter is also a time to reflect on the successes (or failures) of our previous gardens and our time to look forward to the new season.
As spring approaches, choosing the varieties of flowers and vegetables to try this season can be fun. Check out the many seed company catalogs and you will see just how many varieties of plants are available.
If you are thinking about starting plants from seeds there are different sources for purchasing. Your local garden center will certainly have a nice variety of seeds. For an even greater variety, look to the seed company catalogs.
When choosing seeds, be sure to locate the information on the back of the packet about the plants. Knowing the germination period for plants will help you know how far in advance the seeds need to be started. Generally, seeds should be started six to eight weeks before the last frost in your area.
Plants that need a longer growing time before producing fruit (before the first frost in the fall) should be started earlier in the season. Vegetables, such as tomatoes and peppers, need a head start (especially in the cooler climates). These plants can always be found at your local garden center. If you are looking for unusual varieties, however, starting seeds would give you many more options than a garden center.
While seeds provide a wider variety of plant options, the cost per plan is also much less expensive.
Tip: Don’t forget if this is your first year starting plants from seeds, you will need to factor in the cost of starter kits, pots, potting soil, grow lights or more. Most of the time, the first-year start-up cost for seeds is more expensive than subsequent years.
To start seeds you need potting soil, pots, a place to grow the seeds, light, and water. Seed companies, as well as local garden centers, have a variety of seed starting kits. If this is something you are considering, there are many sizes and types of kits. Some kits have plastic pots with soil, some with biodegradable pots with or without soil, and some have disks that need to be hydrated and the seed planted in them.
Tip to Recycle: Previous season starter plant containers can be reused. Be sure they are clean and use sterile potting soil, or a combination of vermiculite and perlite. I have had good luck using the vermiculite/perlite mix. Add plant food to the water to provide nutrients.
Light and Moisture
Seeds need water to germinate. Be sure your plants are in a warm location (at least room temperature) and provide water to moisten the soil To retain moisture during germination, you can apply plastic wrap to the top of the pots so that the soil doesn’t dry out. Once the plants have germinated, give them at least 12 hours of light and remove the plastic.
Light requirements are fairly critical. While daylight is increasing in March and April, you may need to provide extra lighting with either a grow light or shop light. Less light may result in spindly or leggy plants that may not harden off properly. A light breeze from a fan may also provide some needed wind resistance to help stems grow thicker.
Once plants start to grow, check them daily to see if they need to be turned to the light, are moist but not wet, and check their general healthy.
Plant stems started indoors are not as strong as those outdoors. To avoid shock to your seedlings, young plants need to be exposed to cooler outdoor temperatures, variable winds, and increased sunlight. This can be accomplished by using a cold frame. A cold frame is a box with clear glass on top you put your plants in to help them resist the elements. If you don’t have a cold frame you can transition the seedlings to increasing hours outside. One way to do this is to place the seedling trays in a wagon and roll it out during the day and back inside at night. This helps avoid cool temperatures or even frost as the season changes.
Some vegetables such as pumpkins, squash, carrots and cucumbers can be started early, but can also be sown directly into the soil and produce fruit even with a limited growing season. Beans, radishes, peas and lettuce do very well from planting directly into the garden. Starting these veggies early will certainly give you produce earlier than planting seeds directly into the soil.
You may also have good luck starting annual and perennial flowers from seeds. One of my favorites to start from seed is the orange cosmo. It’s rare to find this variety at garden centers. Therefore, in this area, it’s necessary to sow seeds directly into the soil or start the plant indoors.
Tip: Rabbits are very fond of young, tender cosmos. Special care must be taken to protect them until they become established.
Starting seeds yourself can be fun and rewarding. But it does require diligence and work. If this process is not for you, explore different garden centers for different varieties of garden plants. You can also find great plants at garden club sales. Your garden club may sell perennials from members’ gardens, as well as heirloom variety vegetables grown especially for them like ours does. Either way, spring will soon be here and the next phase of gardening will begin.