In February, many people begin to rekindle that very special love in their lives, that old flame: the garden. Soon March will arrive bringing with it all the expectation and excitement of spring. However, for many a gardener, the limitations due to frost or even an early spring snow leave something to be desired. Here’s our selection of tips on how to get a jump-start on your seed schedule, fulfilling that gardening bug while waiting out the last layovers of winter.
Get some containers
In today’s environmentally conscience world, most people are collecting their rubbish and recycling. This is a great place to start looking for planting containers. Individual containers such as plastic yogurt cups that are at least 3 to 4 inches deep make wonderful little starter pots. Just make sure that they have been thoroughly cleaned and that several holes have been punctured on the bottom of the cups. A large needle, a nail or a tack can be used to puncture the holes. As for the under trays or flats, Chinese take-out containers are a terrific waterproof option, as well as other plastic containers collected from the super market, such as the trays used for tomatoes or other vegetables. Another green option is to use cardboard egg cartons.
Although you will still need an under tray for the watering, a nice advantage is that when you are ready to plant the seedlings in a bigger pot, they can be planted directly into the soil without removing the egg carton. The roots will simply grow through the carton and the cardboard will naturally decay into the soil. As for creating the humidity needed to encourage sprouting, kitchen plastic wrap is an inexpensive and easy item to use, and most people will find this in their cupboards. Of course, there are also the store-bought planting containers, along with watering trays that can be found at your local gardening store at a reasonable price, along with plastic humidity domes.
The best soil to use
Make sure you have an indoor potting mix that consists of peat moss, vermiculite and perlite; ask at your local garden center about this type of soilless soil. It is important to start off with this type of mix because it is sterile and therefore you avoid infecting your seedlings with pests or other possible disease issues. By insuring you have the proper combination, you help guarantee more of a success for the seedlings.
What seeds to use
There are many vegetable and flower seeds that are appropriate for starting early in February. Suggestions for vegetables are tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers and a Parris Island or Cos lettuce (a variety of Romaine lettuce). As for flower seeds, Cosmos, Violas and Snap Dragons are wonderful varieties for starting early. Both the suggested vegetable seeds and flower seeds can be propagated in the same way.
Once you have your seed selection, take your containers and fill them with the soilless mixture. And remember, before you plant your selected seeds, the mixture must be watered, although not with a watering can but rather with a spray bottle. Using this assists in avoiding drenching the soilless soil which should remain moist to ensure germination of the seeds. After, use your finger to place an indention into each of the soil pots. You can add up to four seeds to start with into each pot. Once these steps have been completed, cover your containers with either the plastic wrap or a humidity dome, whatever you have chosen. This covering will ensure keeping the seeds warm and help to retain the moisture they require during this process. Now you can find a warm dim place in your home to let the seeds do their germination magic.
For all of you lovers who have been pining away for the garden during the long winter months, the first seedlings are guaranteed to make your heart skip a beat. You can expect to see the first signs of life within a week of planting these selected seeds. Expect the varieties chosen here to begin germinating anywhere from four to 14 days. Once the seedlings have arrived, they can be uncovered and placed in a sunny spot. During this stage, the little plants are very delicate, although once they are about 4 to 5 inches tall, you can begin gently fertilizing using a diluted mixture.
When your seedlings have filled out their first containers and start invading their neighbors space, it’s time to repot them. If you’re unsure whether they are ready or not, you can take a spoon and carefully pull the plant out of the pot. If the roots look well-formed covering the clump of soil, then you are guaranteed it’s time to repot. It’s important the new containers you have selected are twice as large as the starting containers. Before you separate the seedlings, make sure they have been lightly watered. This will ensure soil sticking to the roots and help to protect the plants when separating. Make sure you use a spoon or a butter knife to remove the plants (no tugging or pulling). Place the plants into the new pots and fill the soil up to the neck of the last set of leaves, tamping gently.
Remember to have water diluted fertilizer at hand to assist the roots in settling in the new container and ensuring continued growth. Once the last frost has passed in late spring, you can confidently give them a loving home in your garden.
By starting your seeds at the end of February indoors, you not only fulfill that gardening desire you’ve been missing, but the early start ensures growing stronger and more mature plants for transplanting later on that will bring continued love and happiness the whole summer through.
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