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Seed Starting

Fri, Apr 20th, 2001
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Virginia CooperMonday, April 23, 2001

About the time of year when most people are still worrying about winter storms and road conditions, some of us are performing secret alchemical rituals in the darkness of our basements and back closets. Bags of rank smelling mixtures of soil and compost appear; little packages of seeds and where are those extension cords? Let the planting begin. How many weeks till that first glorious red tomato?

Seed starting at home can be very rewarding without a lot of investment. A couple shoplights - maybe you have a few out in the garage, if not they can be purchased very inexpensively at your local hardware. Be sure to buy the right bulbs. You can buy the expensive 'full spectrum bulbs' but can get the same effect by combining one cool bulb and one warm bulb in the same fixture.

Keep your growing area well ventilated to avoid damping off disease. This fungus kills tiny seedlings quickly; they just droop over and die. The stems will rot at the soil level. Just start over with new soil and put a fan in the room, especially if you use any kind of plastic to hold in heat.

Good success can be had planting tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and melons. Try getting a head start on a few flowers, too. You can have more control over seeding perennials and keeping the soil evenly moist by starting seeds indoors. Perennials hardy in our zone may need a period of cold for best germination.

Next year I promise myself that I will get the potting soil and small pots from the shed before the door is encased in a foot of ice...

Indoor Plant Care

As we turn our attention to the outdoors we should not forget our houseplants. They are now responding to the longer days and are starting to grow again. It's the perfect time to repot any overgrown plants. How do you tell if your houseplants are overgrown? The simplest thing is to look at the bottom of the pot. If there are roots growing out through the holes, well, it's probably time to move up to a larger pot. If you really like the container it's in and don't want to change it you can still stimulate some new growth by pruning the roots. The best way to get the plant out of the pot is by laying it on it's side and rolling it a bit to loosen it up, then pull the pot off the plant rather than pulling the plant out of the pot. Loosen up the roots and straighten them out if they've been circling around the bottom of the pot for awhile. You can use a pruner or kitchen scissors to prune back the roots.

Loosen up and remove the soil around the top of the plant and add new soil. This really revitalizes plants and gets them off to a good year.

Fertilizers for houseplants come in liquid or granular. If you're the type to fuss over your plants you probably like the liquid. But if you don't want to have to think about your plants till next winter, then a time released granular fertilizer may be the way to go. Add according to package directions and you're off to bigger and better things.

Gardening is one of my personal passions. I only hope that over the coming year I can inspire you to try a few new things in your gardens and to try to remember that sometimes it is only in our own backyards that we can personally have an impact on the world around us. Next week we'll get to tree pruning. Thanks for your questions and comments.

Virginia Cooper writes and gardens in Mabel, MN and can be reached at virgcoop@ yahoo.com

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