Dig It! - Seed Starting Hints
by Sage and Snow Garden Club
April 2, 2007
“Remember that Easter weekend is the time to plant your sweet peas”. We’ve often heard this line and the story of the ranch wife removing snow from her flower beds to get the sweet pea (flower) seeds in the ground. Starting vegetable and flower seedlings inside is also a good way to get in touch with spring and allows you to share your extra starts with neighbors you want to meet. You do not need a big garden and can even do a salad garden in a container. You can use common household items to get started. Here are some suggestions.
Use a timing chart to plan when to plant what. Look on the back of the seed packet for information on germination time, seedling spacing, and days till maturity. If you start tomatoes too early they get too spindly. Some flowers like lobelia take 21 days to germinate, so perhaps are best to buy as plants later in the season since we have a basic 60-day season. Peas, beans, cabbages, lettuce, broccoli and beets are easy to grow.
Use various containers, such as foam or plastic cups with drainage holes; 12 to 16 ounce cups are useful for deep root space and also reduce the need to transplant until later. Sanitize the containers by soaking in hot water and bleach, then rinse and air dry. If you use flats for many seeds, transplant to small cups when the second set of leaves are out and be careful not to pinch the stem. Use clean potting soil with added vermiculite to insure seed-to-soil contact and root development.
Pre-water the planting medium before planting and let the soil absorb all it can - make sure the containers have good drainage. Use a cat litter box or plastic tray to hold your pots. Use a lid for increased humidity over seedlings to start, but be sure to let the top of the soil dry out to avoid problems with damping-off disease. Water carefully from the bottom or use a turkey baster when watering from the top.
Read the seed packet and plant to the correct depth. Presoaked peas and beans need to be at least 1 inch deep or the roots push the seedling out of the ground. Other seeds may be 1/8 to ¼ inch deep since they need to be on the surface near light. Note that some seeds, like poppies and pansies, need a cold weather treatment before they will germinate, so go ahead and plant them outdoors now.
When seedlings appear, uncover and move to a bright spot. Water with a dilute fertilizer when seedlings get their first true leaves (usually the second set). As the seedlings grow, thin out the weaker ones and transplant the others into larger containers using little forks, spoons or toothpicks. As the plants mature, "harden them off" by setting them outside for a few hours each day, in increasing duration, in a shaded, protected spot. A week of gradual exposure to the elements will ensure they survive transplanting outside. Cover the plants when night time temperatures get too cold. Gardening is a challenge here, but it is satisfying to have fresh vegetables right at home and gorgeous flowers to brighten your yard.
The Sage and Snow Garden Club meets the second Tuesday each month at noon in the Pinedale Library. On April 10 there will be a special presentation open to the public from 11:15 - 11:45 by Extension Agent Eric Peterson on "What Affects Plant Growth". Please come to this meeting or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or Box 2280, Pinedale, WY 82941.