h&h&g gardening – garden compositions—the seedy side
It’s interesting to me to observe human nature, how people so often are drawn to knowing the “dirt” on any given person or situation. We also seem drawn to know what is going on beneath the surface and what are the root issues that produce certain behaviors or results; in a sense, there is a lot of psychological gardening going on. The link between psychology and gardening is a strong one, so what better way to deal with the winter blues than to get the dirt on your favorite new plants by starting your plants indoors from seed.
Starting your spring plants indoors will require a few special supplies. You will need:
A soilless medium for growing your seeds. You can find soilless soil locally that could be labeled as germination mix, growing medium, or seed-starter mix. You’re looking for a well-draining and fine-textured medium free from disease organisms and from significant amounts of fertilizer. Milled sphagnum moss is another good choice for seed starting. There are also wonderful kits that contain “jiffy-pots” or coconut coir pellets wrapped in a biodegradable material that expand when water is added.
Any option where the container and growing medium are combined will make transplanting to the garden easier and less disruptive to your seedling. Look at your local nursery centers for growing medium and Home Depot or Lowes for prepackaged kits that contain growing medium,
watering trays, heating mats, plant tags, and a “greenhouse” cover for the tray when getting started. If you have never grown from seed before, I highly recommend starting with one of these kits to walk you through the process.
Containers for starting your seeds. Many of my very frugal, recycling friends faithfully disinfect their yogurt cups, egg cartons, or other containers to use in seed planting (disinfect with 10:1 ratio water to bleach; and remember to poke holes in the bottom for drainage).
Call me extravagant, but I have found transplanting more successful—less trauma to the young roots—if I start seeds in containers that can be planted directly into the garden. The “jiffy-pots” mentioned provide that option, as do Fertilpots and my favorite new product called CowPots™. (If you are a fan of the show ‘Dirty Jobs’, you’ll know about CowPots™).
Seeds. I know, you’re probably thinking that goes without saying. You can find seeds at most of your local garden centers but can also order unique or heirloom seeds from places like Baker Creek Seeds (http://www.rareseeds.com), Renees Garden (http://www.reneesgarden.com), http://www.seedsavers.com, and ttp://www.botanicalinterests.com.
Clear plastic bags or plastic covers. When seeds are first sown, loosely cover the container or tray with plastic until the first set of green leaves appears. The plastic cover provides a greenhouse effect, holding in the moisture and warmth to encourage germination.
Such items could include zip-lock bags, clear plastic shower caps, and clear plastic domes from carry-out food or frozen pies. Remember
to remove the plastic once the seeds emerge.
Light. While seeds do not need light to germinate, a sunny window with indirect light is best once your plants emerge. You can also use
fluorescent or cool-white lights.
Water. Seedlings need to be evenly moist but not soaking wet. Seeds and new roots will rot if the growing medium is too wet. Use a fine-
spray mist to water seeds and new seedlings.
Warmth. While not a must-have item, a heating mat made specifically for starting seedlings is advantageous, especially for those of us trying to keep our energy costs down with low home temperatures. Most seeds germinate best at temperatures between 65°F and 70°F. Some folks place their growing trays or pots on the top of their refrigerators to germinate.
what lies beneath
Now that you’ve gathered your supplies, the fun really begins. Moisten your growing medium before sowing your seeds. Most seeds need to only be covered lightly with growing medium to germinate. A good rule of thumb is that the depth of covering depends on the size of the seeds.
Some tiny seeds need light to germinate and do not need to be covered. Sow several seeds in one container since not all seeds will germinate.
Once seedlings emerge, use a soluble house plant type fertilizer diluted to half the recommended strength. A few that I recommend are Bio-tone by Espoma, Monty’s Joy Juice, or Haven Brand Compost Tea (http://www.manuretea.com). Keep an eye on your plants to make sure that they stay evenly moist, make sure that they are getting enough light to grow, and begin to thin out the plants to one plant per pot.
To help prevent your plants from going into transplant shock when moving them to your garden, use a process called hardening off. This process involved moving your seedlings outdoors to a shaded area when the temperatures are above 45 degrees, and decreasing the watering to allow the soil to dry out without causing the seedling to wilt.
Gradually move them to an area where they are getting more sunlight. Remember to bring them indoors if the temperatures look like they will go below freezing or windy/storming weather is predicted. Transplant your seedlings on a cloudy day, if possible.
There are some great sources to help you with starting seeds such as our own Tennessee Extension Service (utextension.tennessee.edu), Missouri Extension Service (extension.missouri.edu), gardening.about.com, http://www.getinthegarden.com, http://www.growingthehomegarden.com, and http://www.crackedpotgardener.com. These long winter evenings are the perfect opportunity to get in touch with your seedier side, in a wholesome kind of way. Also check out if you are on twitter, #gardenchat and #seedchat—a weekly gardening discussion through twitterchat.
Editor’s Note: Barbara Wise, floriculture director with Southern Land Company, LLC, brings her gardening expertise and experience to readers of House & Home & Garden™. You can now read more of Barbara’s plant musings at bwisegardening.com or follow on twitter@bwisegardens. E-mail your questions to her at barbara.wise@ southernland.com.