Starting Seeds: Pre-germination

corn-germinating-on-towel-lah-1Vegetable seeds will germinate with or without soil. All they really need is an infusion of water to swell the seed coat, and sufficient warmth to signify spring. In fact, seeds for our most commonly grown food crops are among the easiest to start. They will begin their growth on a paper towel, a bed of agar, or even while still inside the fruit where they were formed! The home gardener can put this fertility to good use.

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Starting Seeds: Growing Transplants

Congratulations. You are the proud parent of a tray (or more) of baby plants. Remember, though, with parenting comes responsibility.

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These are just the “seed leaves”

Once your seedlings are up and growing, they’ll require almost daily attention. If your potting mix did not contain fertilizer, you’ll need to start a feeding schedule. Wait until the first true leaves appear. (The initial “seed leaves” are the cotyledons, which contain plenty of food to get the baby off to a good start.) Use any liquid all-purpose fertilizer at half-strength, twice as often as the directions tell you.

And speaking of water, don’t let them dry out! At this stage, wilting is fatal, Even if your plants survive, they will suffer the effects of this trauma all their days. The ultimate crop yield will be smaller, and won’t taste as good, compared to plants that grew unchecked.  Continue to water from the bottom, using water that is room temperature or lukewarm. You don’t want to shock their little roots with ice water!

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Easter Lilies: Now What?

If you received a lily for Easter this year, you might be wondering what to do with it once it stops blooming. In warmer parts of the country, you can plant the finished bulb outside. Without being forced to bloom for Easter, the white flowers will appear in July. You’ll be enjoying your “Easter” Lily for many years to come.

Unfortunately, in most of Colorado, winters are too severe for these lilies. Unlike other varieties, trumpet lilies are only hardy to USDA zone 6. So, unless you have a very protected spot in your garden, you’ll have to buy a different kind of lily for outdoor growing.

To get the most from your gift plant, keep your lily in a cool, bright spot, but not in direct sunlight. Remember to water enough to keep the soil constantly damp, but not soggy. Removing any foil wrapping from around the pot will help excess water drain away from the roots.

Starting Seeds: Light

If you’ve ever tried growing seeds indoors, you may have ended up with tall and spindly plants, flopping over, adorned with pale leaves. When planted outside, these ungainly wisps quickly succumb to bright sunlight and the gentlest of breezes. What’s a gardener to do?

While overabundant food and water, coupled with too-warm temperatures, contribute to this problem, the primary culprit is insufficient light.

The crops most commonly grown in our veggie gardens all require full sun—at least eight hours per day. Likewise, bright light is essential for producing stocky seedlings with healthy green leaves.

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Starting Seeds: Soil and Water

Do not start your indoor seedlings in soil.

Does that surprise you? Yet, even good garden loam is not the best choice for growing transplants.

For one thing, soil is more than just dirt. It is full of micro-organisms such as nematodes, bacteria, and fungi. Out in the garden, they keep one another in check. Indoors, it’s another story. One of the most common causes of seedling failure, “damping off” is a disease causes by a fungus. Once infected, it is fatal to the baby plants. The only hope is prevention.

You do have the option of sterilizing your garden soil. You can bake it at about 250º F for several hours. That will kill all those nasty diseases. It will also create a stench in your home. If you want to stay on good terms with your housemates, this is not the best way to go.

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White on White

We had several inches of snow last night. The fields are white. The driveway is white. In fact, pretty much the only color outside is… white. At least right now the sky is blue.

Now tell me—why do we plant early bulbs with flowers that are white? If snowdrops came in scarlet and crimson, I’d be first in line to buy some. At least crocuses come in yellow and lavender.

At least daffodils are yellow!

My favorite early bloomers are Tête-à-Tête daffodils. Their intense golden yellow color is just what I need after a winter of muted pastels and dead brown. They shrug off each Spring storm, emerging from the melting snow with all their bright cheer unscathed.

I’m sure white flowers have their place. There’s nothing like an all-white flower garden seen by summer moonlight. I like white daisies and white baby’s breath. But at this time of year, when everything in me yearns for color, growing white flowers makes no sense at all!

Starting Seeds: Containers

Raise your hand if you remember starting seeds in elementary school. Perhaps they sprouted in the cells of a cardboard egg carton. Sound familiar? Now, did your seedlings grow and thrive? Hmm, thought so. Granted, you probably forgot to water them, or you dropped the whole shebang on the way home from school. But it wasn’t all your fault. Egg cartons make awful seed starting containers.

What should you use to start those little seedlings? There are a number of excellent choices. Suitable containers share several attributes.

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