Are you loving this weather? It’s pretty amazing and long overdue. If all this sunshine – and the fact that the first day of spring is exactly one week from today -- makes your thoughts turn to that patch of ugly ground outside, we’ve got some ideas on how you can jumpstart your spring gardening program.
Keep in mind that we still have a frost danger up until around April 23. This means you don’t want to cut back or prune anything that might be damaged by frost before the first week of May.
But, this is the ideal time to start seeds indoors for transplanting later into the garden. Sure, a lot of seeds needed to be started a month or two ago, but many Edina favorites can be started right now
Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan)
Bells of Ireland
Here’s what you’ll need to get this project underway:
- Containers – almost anything can be used to start seeds, as long as it has a hole in the bottom to release excess water. Flats, which are easier to use, can be purchased at the nursery and are ideal for the gardener who is starting a lot of seeds.
- Soil – Actually the best medium in which to start seeds is a sterile soilless mixture. This helps prevent damping off – a nasty fungal disease of seeds and seedlings.
- Heat mat – This is optional, but keep in mind that seeds and seedlings that sit in cold soil are susceptible to damping off.
- Fluorescent lights – These, too, are optional but they come in handy if you don’t have an area that receives the amount of sunlight required of the particular seed you’re germinating. Sure, you can purchase “grow lights,” but they’re pricier than plain old fluorescents. Just use a fixture that contains two "cool white" fluorescent tubes and you’ll be good to go.
- Liquid fertilizer – You won’t need this until the seedlings have several sets of leaves. At this point you’ll need to fertilize them “weakly, weekly,” as they say in the gardening world. Dilute an all-purpose fertilizer to ¼ the strength recommended on the bottle and use the solution to water the seedlings every week.
Plant seeds to the depth recommended on the package. If they require light to germinate, cover them with the thinnest possible layer of vermiculite or coarse sand.
Windowsills are a terrible location for seed germination. They are typically the coldest area of the home during the evenings and the hottest during the day and the sun streaming through the windows can burn tender young growth. Choose a spot that is draft-free and where the temperature remains consistently above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If you won’t be using bottom heat, the air temperature may need to be warmer, depending on the seed.
The experts at the University of Minnesota suggest hanging your lights from chains so that they sit no more than 4 inches above the top of the seedlings, “as close as 2 inches is ideal.” The chains will allow you to adjust the distance between the light and the seedlings as they grow.
If your heat mat has a temperature dial and the seed packet doesn’t recommend a soil temperature, set the mat at 70 degrees F.
Use a spray bottle to keep the surface of the planting medium moist. Never allow it to become soggy.
Harden off your seedlings before planting them in the garden. This is a process wherein the plant is gradually exposed to outdoor conditions. Pick an outdoor spot that is out of the wind and allow the seedlings to remain there during the day, bringing them in at night. Start with one or two hours in the afternoon, in the shade, on the first day and then leave them out a little longer every day over the course of two weeks.