Seeds of spring: planting tips from a gardener’s diary

Vernon columnist sprouting her 11th year of advice

PIck up some local knowledge at the Seedy Saturday event.

Spring is coming in spite of the cold nights. The robins are here and I just love to listen to them. They always have that happy chirp. The tulips are out and the aconites are blooming.

Seeds displays are already in many stores. After all the long winter months, if you are like me, you are eager to get ready for the new season. I picked some very small lettuce seedlings in the garden in early November. I transplanted them in 6 cells and kept them growing in the south facing window all winter without extra lights. I have been eating a small amount of lettuce leaves throughout winter. Not enough for a salad, but a few leaves on sandwiches.

Starting your own seeds gives you access to more interesting plants and you have more control over what you really want to have in your garden. However, starting your seeds too early will only get you leggy and overgrown plants unless you have the right amount of light. Annuals and vegetables are easy to grow. When growing seedlings, it is important to use sterile potting soil and pots. Never use soil from your garden or old potting soil. If you are reusing containers, wash with soapy water and a little bleach. This will save you a lot of trouble. Also don’t forget to clean your tools.

Seedlings need warmth to germinate but as soon as they come up, they will appreciate a cooler temperature. Most of the seed packets have the information required to grow them, Some seeds need light to germinate but most of them like to be covered. Seeds should be covered about three times their sizes. If you sow too deep, they will struggle to come up and if not deep enough they might dry up before having a chance to sprout. Some flats come with a plastic dome lid or you can put them in a plastic bag but never sit them in a sunny window with the top on as they might cook inside. At the first signs of germination, uncover or remove the plastic bag.

Avoid too much water. When the top of the soil looks dry, water your trays with a fine spray. Too much force will push your seeds together and it might be difficult to separate the seedlings. Avoid soggy soil and poor air circulation. This could be a cause for fungal disease called damping off that can kill your seedlings overnight.

Unless you have lots of light like a south exposure, it is better to grow your seedlings with extra lights. I have lots of windows but I also have many sets of fluorescent lights and rotate my trays. You should keep the top of your seedlings about eight to 10 cm from the light. This will prevent your plants from becoming too spindly. They should receive 14 to 16 hours of light. Plugging them into a timer will make your task easier.

When the seedlings have two sets of true leaves start feeding once a week with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer at half-strength, working up to full strength after a few weeks.

Time has surely gone by fast. I am now starting on my 11th year of writing the gardening column.

For more information: 250-558-4556

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