Just when we thought that we could count on spring officially being here, we wind up with some snow. However, the temperatures will be rising this week, and that will melt the snow. Here’s hoping for warmer and warmer weather.
Now that we are all housebound, there is something you can be doing now. Late March is a good time to be starting your spring flower and vegetable plants from seed.
Many of the annual flowers and many of the vegetable plants need only about eight weeks from planting seeds to having plants big enough to set outside at the normal planting time of Memorial Day weekend.
An exception to the rule would be the vine type of vegetable crops. Cucumbers and squash need only about four weeks from being seeded to be large enough to put outside.
The things you will need are pots and, of course, the seeds. The pots can be 3-inch or 4-inch pots. Just be sure that they have drain holes. If you are using pots from last year or pots that have had contact with dirt, wash the pots with soap and water and disinfect with a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Rinse those old pots.
You will also need a potting soil referred to as a seed-starting soil. This type of soil is a blend of ingredients that will inhibit the growth of diseases that can kill the small seedlings. Most garden centers will have the seed, soil and pots in stock at this time of the year.
It is also helpful to have some starter trays to put the pots into to make it easier to water the pots, particularly as the seeds sprout and begin to grow. The trays are usually 22 inches long and roughly 7 inches wide. They have a ribbed bottom that allows excess water to drain out of the pots. I have always preferred the trays without drain holes. It is far easier to drain away water by pouring it out of the tray rather then trying to clean up water that has drained all over the floor.
To begin your planting, you will take the soil and moisten it. Place the moistened soil into the pots, and lightly press it down and add more to fill the pot to within 1/2 inch from the top. You will place two seeds, evenly spaced, into the pot. The seed packet will tell you how deep in the soil you need to plant the seeds.
It would be helpful to label the pots with wood or plastic stakes or small pieces of cardboard. A regular pencil or a permanent marker will hold up best. By labeling the pots, you will know come planting time what variety of plant is in each pot.
Once you have the pots filled and seeded, you can put the pots in the trays and move the trays to a warm and sunny area. To keep the soil from drying out too quickly, you can cover the trays with clear plastic wrap or you can buy domes that will fit over the trays. The purpose of this is to hold in moisture, which helps with the germination of the seed.
Initially, you most likely won’t need to water the soil until the seed sprouts. If the soil begins to dry, you will need to water. Until the seed sprouts, the best way to water is to use a spray bottle filled with warm water. Set the sprayer to a medium mist setting, and spritz the surface of the soil. This will keep the soil from getting too wet and will also prevent the seed from being forced too deeply into the soil.
Once the seeds have sprouted, you can remove the plastic wrap and/or the tray dome. Initially, you should use the misting bottle to water. Once the plants have a few sets of leaves, you can switch to filling the trays with warm water. Keep adding warm water as the pots absorb the water. Once the surface of the soil turns dark brown, drain any excess water out of the tray. You can use a watering can if you are careful with your watering of the pots.
It is important to not keep the soil excessively wet. Doing so can encourage plant disease and may result in your plants rotting.
Once the seedlings have two or three sets of leaves, you should begin to fertilize the plants with a small amount of fertilizer you can mix with water. The fertilizer package should give you an amount to use. Plants are watered as needed, and they should be fertilized every 10 to 14 days.
Come mid- to late May, you should have some beautiful plants that you can set out into your planters or into the ground.
Well, that’s all for this week. I’ll talk to you again next week.
Tim Lamprey has worked in the lawn and garden industry for 45 years.