Growing Your Own: Start Your Spring Garden This Winter

By Nudo, Lori | The Saturday Evening Post, January-February 2010 | Go to article overview

Growing Your Own: Start Your Spring Garden This Winter


Nudo, Lori, The Saturday Evening Post


For gardeners, it's the warmest moment of the coldest season: when your first seed catalog arrives in the mail. You can almost feel your green thumb twitching in anticipation as you leaf through the pages and imagine the possibilities.

Sure, you could wait until spring and buy plants, but few things are more satisfying than growing plants from seed. And it's not tough, even if you're a beginner placing your first seed order. Most of what you need, you probably already have around the house. And once you know the basics, you're good to grow. Lisa Prasad, a horticulturist and plant propagator for the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, offers some simple guidelines to get good results every time.

TIMING

Prime seed-starting season starts in February, depending on where you live and what you grow. Generally, you should start seeds indoors about six weeks before the last frost date in your area, which you can find in a gardening almanac.

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CONTAINING

Any small container will do the trick. Just make sure it's clean (use soap and water or a well-diluted bleach solution) and has drainage holes. Pick a container no more than 3 inches deep--enough to hold moisture, but not so much that your seedlings will rot. Egg cartons, paper cups, or the empty six-packs from the annuals you bought last year all work well. Or try peat pots, which can go straight into the ground when you plant in the garden.

FILLING

Garden soil often contains bacteria harmful to germinating seeds, so use a commercial "soil-less" seed-starting mix. Prasad likes to water the potting mix a day before planting to get just the right moisture level. The end result should be damp, not wet.

SOWING

If it's your first time starting seeds, stick with fast sprouters. Fortunately, most vegetables and many annuals are quick to come up, including tomatoes, lettuce, impatiens, zinnia, sunflower, and many others.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Read the back of the seed package carefully: It will tell you just how deep to sow your seeds. Consider sowing smaller seeds on the surface and lightly dusting them with a thin layer of the potting mix. Fine sand works well as a top dressing for seeds that hate to be wet. Lightly tamp it down. Cover containers or flats with plastic wrap to keep a consistent moisture level until they germinate. Remove your plastic wrap at the first sign of green growth. Prasad suggests sowing three seeds for every plant you want. Sow them in the same container and keep only the strongest seedling if they all germinate.

WARMING

Most seeds germinate best at soil temperatures around 70 F. …

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