ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN
These seedlings have just emerged in the light garden.
March, whether it arrives as a lamb or a lion, heralds the time that we avid gardeners start to think about planting some seeds.
All seedlings should be carefully labelled. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
Pansies are commonly seeded indoors in March, producing good-sized transplants for the outdoor garden in May. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
Plants are sturdy and healthy when grown in a cold frame.
(ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
Although any planting in the outdoor garden is a couple of months away yet, there are some plants that need a head start if they are to be their most productive in our outdoor landscapes.
Parsley, tomatoes, peppers, sweet peas, petunias, ageratum and salvia are just some of the vegetables and flowers that will provide more produce or bloom if you seed them early indoors. Growing your own seedlings ensures that you get the varieties that you prefer, some of which you may not find at bedding plant vendors.
Of course, this venture also gives you the opportunity to start digging in the dirt and to get your hands dirty, which we are all yearning to do by this time of year.
Planting seeds indoors is not a difficult task but a few precautions and following good hygiene will lead to greater success; having the necessary materials and appropriate space are also vital to the success of the endeavour.
Before embarking on such a project, make sure you have a location that gets adequate light, such as a south-facing window or a light garden. Seedlings must have strong light to stay healthy and vigorous and most disappointments result from people trying to grow seedlings in inadequate light.
You will need containers. You don’t have to buy them — use what you have, such as recycled greenhouse packs, milk containers, margarine tubs, etc.
Buy a good quality soilless mix. I usually buy a general purpose one that I also can use in my outdoor containers but if you are planting very fine seeds, such as petunias, you may want to purchase a finer mix recommended for seedling.
Read the directions on seed packages to get planting dates. The package will usually tell you how many weeks to plant the seed before planting out time, so if you think you would plant your peppers outdoor on June 1 and the package says to plant the seed 10 weeks to planting out time, sow the seed around the middle of March.
Take note of the germination requirements of the seeds. Some seeds like to have darkness while others require light to germinate (these you would not cover). Most seeds germinate at fairly warm temperatures but a few prefer cool soil temperatures and there are some that benefit from being pre-chilled.
Make sure all your equipment and supplies are sterile; wash containers and row markers in a bleach solution. Most soilless mixes will be sterile and contain no pathogens.
The actual seeding process involves moistening the planting medium and then planting the seeds. Do not succumb to a common tendency to plant the seeds too thickly. The seedlings will grow better and not require transplanting as soon if they are well spaced, and diseases occur more often when seedlings are too crowded.
Plant seeds, such as parsley and sweet peas, individually in three-inch pots so that the seedlings do not have to be transplanted. Place all the containers on trays (recycled meat trays work well), ensure that the containers all have good drainage, and label each planting accurately.
Enclose the seeded containers in plastic bags to keep the planting medium moist and check them every couple of days to ensure there isn’t an excessive build up of moisture. If there is, take the container out of the bag for an hour or so.
As soon as any seedlings appear, move the container into good light so that the seedlings do not become elongated; if you plant more than one kind of plant in a container make sure they all have similar germination times.
Keep the planting medium moist but not overly wet — it doesn’t hurt for the surface to dry out between waterings as a wet soil surface will encourage damping off disease.
After you have transplanted the seedlings or the ones in individual pots have a couple of sets of true leaves, fertilize weekly with a half strength soluble 20-20-20 plant food.
As the plants get larger and April arrives, if possible, move the plants to an outdoor cold frame to achieve robust, healthy plants. You can either install some sort of heater in the cold frame for chilly days and nights or bring the plants indoors when temperatures are forecast to drop.
Growing your own bedding plants ensures you get the varieties you like and you could end up stretching your gardening budget by saving yourself some money.
Best of all, however, it offers enjoyment doing what gardeners love to do — grow things!
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 7, 2013