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A great way to shake off the winter blues and get a jump on spring is to start plants from seed indoors. It’s not only fun and easy to do but also rewarding, since it allows home gardeners the opportunity to grow plant varieties that may not be available from local plant growers. The opportunities are endless with many unique varieties of flowers, vegetables, and even ornamental vines available in seed form.
To get started, come visit our seed department. Once you have made your selections, look on the back of the packet for basic information such as germination time and an estimate of how long to grow the plant indoors before transplanting into the garden. Find out the average safe date for transplanting your plant in our area, and then count backwards to find out how early you can start your seeds. If you have a greenhouse or cold frame to transplant into, adjust accordingly.
The best containers to use are shallow seed starting trays with covers. Another option is to use peat pots, but plastic or clay pots will do just fine in a pinch. If using containers from a previous growing season, wash them with a solution of one part household bleach to nine parts water to sterilize them. This helps prevent the transfer of disease.
For good germination results, fill your containers with a light soil mix that has good drainage and moisture retention properties. Do not use garden soil. Make sure to wet your soil mix and allow it to drain before sowing the seeds into your containers.
Find a warm location in your home with plenty of light, or an area where you can mount a light above the plants. Most plants need only moisture and warmth to germinate, but will need the light to grow once they sprout leaves. Plain fluorescent light bulbs are fine when starting seeds but consider using at least one “grow light” tube if you are going to keep the plants under lights for an extended time (if you are trying to get full-sized plants by transplant time, you’ll need a grow light or a very bright window). Remember that seedlings will quickly become weak and leggy plants if they don’t receive enough light.
Seeds generally need a soil temperature above 65º to germinate. If you have trouble maintaining that temperature, consider using a heating mat. Covering your containers with plastic will help hold in moisture and create a humid environment that encourages the seed to germinate. That’s why covered seed starting trays are the easiest containers to use.
Make sure your plants don’t get too hot under the plastic, especially if you have the containers in a sunny area or under a warm light. Remove the plastic as soon as you see any signs of germination. Keep the soil mix evenly moist, and use lukewarm water if possible. Water very gently to avoid disturbing the tender seedlings.
When your seed germinates, it will send up a sprout with two seed leaves called cotyledons. After that, true leaves will follow. Begin feeding your seedlings weekly with a half-strength solution of fertilizer (ask us which is best for what you are growing) when the first true leaves develop. Continue feeding the seedlings until they are ready to be transplanted. The plants will be ready when the entire root ball is held together by the plant roots.
Make sure to harden off your plants before transplanting them into the garden. (“Hardening off” is the process of acclimating plants to the light, humidity, and temperatures found outdoors.) Start by placing your seedling containers outdoors in a shaded, sheltered location for a couple of hours per day. Gradually increase the time spent outside by an hour each day for at least a week before transplanting the seedling. With the exception of tomatoes, plant the seedlings at the same level they were grown in their pot. Tomatoes can be buried deeper than they grew in the pot–they will grow roots from the buried portion of the stem.
After transplanting, if your neighbors ask where you bought all those wonderful plants, just tell them, “They’re truly homegrown!”
To prolong your harvest, it’s best to check on your garden daily and pick whatever is ripe. Leaving fruit on the plant tells the plant that it doesn’t need to grow anymore. If your squashes are flowering, but not producing, it might be a good idea to hand pollinate. Pick your zucchini when it’s 4-8” long and they will taste better and produce more zucchini. If birds are ruining your tomatoes, picking them when they turn orange and counter ripening can be a good strategy. Keep an eye out for pests and take care of infestations in the early stages,
For your berries, you’ll want to be pruning back spent canes. Strawberries should be weeded and mulched, and you can transplant any extra strawberry plants to a new bed for next spring now too.
In the flower garden, this is a great time to add some fall-colored annuals to your beds. Keep deadheading spent flowers and give them some fertilizer to get another show out of them. Check your roses and remove any leaves with black spot. Trim and train your vines to their trellis. It can also be useful to put in stakes near your perennials with labels, so you’ll remember what you have next spring.
You should be keeping your lawn mower set to the highest setting this time of year. Now is also a good time to aerate and dethatch your lawn. Only fertilize the lawn if you’ve been getting plenty of rain.
With all of the scraps from all of this maintenance, this can also be a great time to get a compost pile started, if you haven’t already. If you’re short on space, you can just “chop and drop” dead plants and let them break down on top of the soil as mulch for now, then turn them into the soil when the season is over. Adding organic material to your garden is really just “making a deposit” toward the nutrients your plants will need in future seasons.
Hopefully you’re having a great harvest this year. If not, this is a good time for planning out your garden for next year, while the memory’s still fresh. A gardening notebook can be very handy. Record what you planted and when, your successes, failures, and lessons learned. Having a record will help you remember where you planted things before they pop up in the spring. Above all, take care of yourself. Doing your work in the morning or evening will help you keep your stamina and prevent heat stroke. Stay hydrated and keep your skin protected, and take a break if need be. Happy Gardening!
Blossom End Rot:
Blossom End Rot is a common problem in the garden. There are a number of reasons for it, but the symptoms are unmistakable. An otherwise great looking fruit will have a sunken, soft, rotten bottom on it. There’s nothing worse in the garden than picking a beautiful fruit and turning it over to see it ruined.
Most commonly seen in tomatoes, Blossom End Rot also afflicts peppers, squash, and melons. It is mainly caused by a calcium deficiency, but that does not necessarily mean that the soil is lacking in calcium. Most times, it is a byproduct of irregular watering. To be sure your soil has enough calcium, add vegetable food that is high in calcium, and you can also spray on a high calcium foliar spray.
Another factor can be that your soil is too high in nitrogen. Avoid adding high nitrogen fertilizers and uncomposted manure. These will help your plants grow leaves, but prevent it from producing fruit.
The biggest thing is to make sure that when you do water, the water gets down to the roots evenly. You’re better off watering every second or third day and soaking the beds deep than doing a short watering every day. You should also be watering at the soil level, whether by using drip lines, soaker hoses, or by flood-irrigation. Water slowly and for at least 10-15 min to give the water time to soak into the soil. Avoid spraying the leaves, as it encourages fungus and can wash pollen out of the flowers.
However you go about it, you should be checking moisture levels before and a while after you water. If the soil is already moist, DO NOT WATER! It also helps to pay attention to the forecast. If rains are expected, you should hold off on water to avoid nature doubling down on the water. It also will help to have a good layer of mulch around your plants to retain moisture and to keep weed levels down.
Luckily, Blossom End Rot is a problem that can be solved. If your plants are afflicted, try some of these steps. Pull off affected fruits as soon as they form to keep the plant from wasting energy on them, and keep adjusting your watering until it goes away. Any changes you make will only be seen on fruits that begin to form after you’ve made them. With a little time, and a little practice, you’ll be growing some great tomatoes.–>