It’s the time of the year when avid gardeners everywhere start organizing their seed collections and begin attempting to get everything lined up for the upcoming growing season. The only trouble is that in most parts of the United States, the cold weather hasn’t gone away just yet. This is especially true this year when the city of Savannah, Georgia has had temperatures lower than those found in Inverness, Scotland on the same days on more than one occasion. I am not kidding when I say Florida is looking good. And, since not everyone has a geodesic dome greenhouse, it’s time to get your summer lineup underway if you haven’t already.
*Seeds. As strange as it may seem, these are crucial to the success of the operation.
*Clean Containers. If the pot in question is caked with grime, you may want to give it a quick scrub and let it air dry. More vigorous scrubbing and some disinfectant may be needed if the plant previously living in said container died from some sort of disease. If you like to live dangerously, you can just dump soil in the containers as is. I’ve personally never had a problem doing precisely that, but it’s always a possibility that lingering germs or bacteria could result in unintentional carnage. So just be careful.
*Fresh Potting Soil. Recycled dirt is fine to use for most projects but it can contain unwanted weed seeds (not that type of weed – why, what have you been growing in your garden?). Used potting soil occasionally harbors pests such as cut worms that can take out an army of seedlings in one fun-filled night. You can also run into the problem of having plants germinate that were not what you planted in the first place and easily end up with a case of mistaken identity. So just save time and use fresh soil.
*A Sunny, Warm Room or Windowsill. You’re going to want to put your growing seeds in a place where they can get the most sun and heat possible. Also, if you have dogs that eat plants, you want to make sure the two aren’t left alone together. It could get ugly fast, especially if cactuses are involved.
*Shish-Kabob Sticks or Leftover Plastic Utensils from Take-out Meals and Thin String. If your plants start to flop over from sunlight that isn’t strong enough for their liking, you’ll want to use these devices to prop them up.
*Tongue Depressors. Using a sharpie and a tongue depressor is a foolproof way of labeling plants.
*Saucers. If you have them, use them and protect your floors. The cheap plastic versions range from less than $1 to about $3 at Lowes. Terracotta and ceramic look nicer but are naturally priced accordingly.
*Heating Mat (optional). Many hard to germinate seeds benefit from having their temperatures regulated using a heating mat. I don’t regularly make a practice of growing anything that isn’t relatively idiot proof, so purchasing one just isn’t worth it. However, many gardening websites are enthusiastically in favor of these devices and it might be worth it to get one if you’ve got money to spare.
Read the directions on the back of each seed package. Most will have an informational section that will say something along the lines of ‘start indoors 4 to 6 weeks before last frost date’. If you don’t know when that is for your area, check the Farmer’s Almanac website and find out. Then look at the calendar that can conveniently be found by clicking on the time and date feature on the lower right edge of your computer screen. Count backwards the appropriate number of weeks from the frost free date to find out when to plant.
Or you can use the seed chart found here where all you have to do is enter the date and it gives planting times for some of the major crops. The downside is that it does a good job of covering veggies, but not herbs or flowering plants. I also recommend checking out ‘A Garden Guide to the South’ from your local library if you live in the aforementioned neighborhood. It has a more extensive list of what to sow when.
I’ll admit that some plant seed packages do a horrible job of explaining what to do and go on indefinitely about how tasty or beautiful the plant in question is. Although that does a good job of explain why you bought it, it’s not helpful in terms of real world info. Enter the internet where you can look up whatever pertinent information that the seed company neglected to tell you. In fact, not all seeds actually need to be started indoors. While this is definitely the best way to get tomatoes and peppers underway in time, a lot of plants can be direct sown in the garden so be sure to check.
Most plants can be sown without any extra effort, like tomatoes and peppers, but some seeds do have to be soaked in water overnight such as the parsley depicted in the picture above. Some plants needs to be soaked in hot water while others prefer cold. Other plants such as sweet peas and nasturtiums will have to have their seed coats nicked before they can be planted. Once the preliminaries are over, it’s on the main event but be sure to make a label and stick it in the container in question. Otherwise, unfortunate mix-ups can easily occur.
You’ll want to plant the seeds in fresh potting soil. Again, read the directions. A number of plants are surface sown rather than buried in the dirt. Most seed packets will have instructions telling you how deep to bury them and you can use a device called a dibbler for more accurate measuring if you have one. However, it’s a good rule of thumb to put a seed’s worth of dirt over the one in question. For example, if you have a tiny seed, a dusting of dirt is sufficient. But, with a large bulb, you’d want at least a few inches of dirt on top of it.
Put a saucer beneath the plant containers to keep from messing up floors or furniture. Water the seed mix well and keep it moist. Place the pots in a warm, sunny room. The plants should sprout soon if you’ve done everything right and the seeds haven’t expired. If the seedlings get too spindly, just prop them up with shish-kabob sticker or plastic utensils. They’ll also need to be turned every so often so they don’t grow permanently bent in direction. Once the weather warms up for good, the seedlings can be left outside for gradually longer periods of time until they can remain outside all day without getting burned to a crisp.