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Shady secrets, money-saving seedpots, and getting the tools ready: this month's gardening | Leaf Probably

Seed Starting Hacks

In February, gardeners in Pennsylvania are busy planting their first seeds for young, homegrown, cool-season transplants that will be ready to be planted out as soon as conditions permit.

Onions, leeks, cabbage, broccoli and lettuce are among the first vegetables to start this month for planting in late March to early April.

Pansies, violas and snapdragons are three flowers that can also be planted out weeks before frost, which is in one at the end of April Average Spring in the Harrisburg area (and mid-May if you pass our latest spring frost ever).

March is the time to plant plants from seeds for summer crops such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil and most annual flowers indoors.

Petra Page-Mann, co-owner of New York-based Fruition Seeds, lists four keys to getting your seeds to germinate:

1.) Don’t sow too deep. Most seeds should only be sown about twice that deep, which is shallower than many gardeners think, says Page-Mann. Planting deeper will slow or even prevent germination.

Note that some strains require light to germinate and should therefore be pressed into the soil surface – not buried. These include ageratum, impatiens, petunias, browallia, snapdragons, coleus and nicotiana.

Seed packets tell you how deep to plant each variety.

2.) Good seed-soil contact. After sowing your seeds, press them firmly to allow soil moisture to break open the seed coat and root growth to begin.

“Also, when the first root emerges, it will definitely find both water and nutrients, rather than an air pocket that slows growth,” says Page-Mann.

3.) The right temperature. Some seeds will germinate in a wide range of temperatures, but according to Page-Mann, a soil temperature between 70 and 80 degrees is ideal for most seeds, with 77 degrees being the “sweet spot.”

“The farther from their optimal soil temperature, the longer it will take your seeds to germinate,” she says.

Since most homes are kept cooler than ideal during the winter, Page-Mann says a heating mat is a valuable aid in germinating seeds.

Don’t have a heating mat? Second best is to place your seed pots or trays on top of something that generates some heat (like a refrigerator) or in a warm corner of the house.

4.) Consistent humidity. “Seeds need water to soften and swell their seed coat, so it’s important that you never let your seeds dry out during germination,” says Page-Mann.

She recommends “bottom watering” so the seed starting medium absorbs enough to remain consistently moist. However, do not add so much that water stands under the pots/trays and soaks the medium.

Additional lighting will prevent young seedlings from becoming “leggy”.

From seedlings to transplants…

Then what if you sprout the seeds into seedlings?

The most common disadvantage is lack of light, which causes seedlings to quickly become “leggy” as they stretch for the limited indoor light. Even next to a sunny south-facing window, it is usually not bright enough.

You will have much better successes with additional lights. Joe Lamp’l, aka “Joe Gardener” from PBS’s Growing a Greener World, offers six tips based on some extensive first-hand testing he did in his Atlanta-area basement.

1.) Ordinary workshop fluorescent lights (known as T12) work well if you’re only growing seedlings for four to six weeks. A dichroic tube and a warm tube in each unit enhance the light spectrum. (Higher efficiency T5 fluorescent tubes and LED grow lights are significantly brighter but better suited for use over larger, more mature plants.)

2.) Simple workshop fluorescents work best when the lights are held very close above the seedlings, ideally 1 inch.

The height for LEDs varies with their intensity and heat output. Joe says to watch how plants react and then move the lights up or down accordingly.

Ratchet pulleys are better for height adjustment than hanging lights from chains with S-hooks, says Joe.

3.) It is ideal to switch the light on for 16 hours and off for eight hours.

Joe has found that leaving them on longer – up to and including all the time – and more light than the plants need is counterproductive.

4.) Don’t start seeds too early and don’t let them grow inside for too long. Joe says most plants are ready for outdoor cultivation after just four to six weeks under lights.

5.) As with Page-Mann’s advice on soil watering for germinating seeds, Joe recommends watering seedling trays from below and allowing the roots to soak up water, rather than dousing the delicate seedlings with watering cans from above.

Limit the water to what the seedling mix will soak up in about 15 minutes. Drain excess water after the surface of the seedling mix becomes wet.

6.) Germination mats and plastic domes are good for germinating seeds, says Joe, but once the plants have emerged and are growing, stop using them.

Excessive heat and humidity can lead to overly tender growth and/or a disease called damping off, which causes seedlings to topple over at the base. Joe recommends running a small fan on low over the seedlings to prevent this.

  • Read more of Joe Gardener’s seedling growing tips
  • Read George’s “Seed-Starting 101” column

Recycled tubs of margarine can be used to start seeds.

Money-saving seed pots

You don’t need new and/or expensive pots and trays for your seed starting activities.

As long as the bin is clean, can hold soil, and has holes in the bottom for drainage, any type of recycled item can be used.

One of the best vessels for starting seeds are used tubs of margarine or butter. Simply clean them out, poke or drill several small drainage holes in the soil (quarter inch holes are good), and fill with vermiculite or other light seed starting medium.

Cut-off milk jugs, plastic berry and cherry tomato cups, sundaes, and plastic or foam take-out food containers also work well.

For raising single seedlings (whether you grow them directly in small pots or transplant them from the grow containers mentioned above), you probably have all sorts of options indoors.

Including: yogurt cups, halved juice boxes and plastic water bottles, used foam or paper drinking cups, K coffee mugs, Chinese take-out containers, egg cartons, toilet paper and paper towels made from cardboard tubes, sliced ​​avocado and citrus peels, soup cans and sliced ​​shampoo, conditioner , mouthwash and lotion bottles.

Many gardeners also like to use cell packs salvaged from previous purchases of greenhouse grown transplants.

These work well — just clean them and disinfect them by soaking them in a 10 percent bleach solution for 10 or 15 minutes to kill any plant diseases that may be lurking.

Some gardeners also make their own seedling pots by wrapping 2-4 ply strips of newspaper around a metal can and inserting one end into the open end of the can. These can be planted whole (they will biodegrade). The trick is to keep them from decaying to soon.

For seedling trays (which contain seed pots), store-bought plastic trays can be reused year after year if cleaned and sanitized. If they develop pinholes, cut plastic sheets to use as liners to extend their lifespan.

Old cake pans, baking and frying pans, and large plastic food containers can also be used if they have survived their use in the kitchen.

Winter is a good time to clean and sharpen garden tools.

tool time

Even if it doesn’t seem like it now, it will be time to get outside and start digging, trimming, and mowing again before you know it.

Are your tools ready?

February is a good month to clean and sharpen garden tools and maintain power tools to get you going in spring.

Sharp tools work so much better. Use a bench grinder and/or file to carve sharp edges into your shovels, edge tools, secateurs, pruning shears, garden knives and even hand trowels.

If nothing else, at least get rid of the dirt and make sure everything is in good condition.

If not, this is also a good time to stock up on replacement parts and/or new tools before garden centers become overrun with plant buyers.

Lawn mower blades in particular should be sharpened about every 25 hours of cutting time. Dull blades make rougher cuts that dry out and sicken grass blades more than the sharp cuts that sharp mowing blades make.

Now is also a good time to change oil, clean/replace spark plugs and ready all electrical equipment such as edgers, weed killers, shredders and mowers for use in 2022.

While you’re at it, take stock of the gardening supplies you use regularly (fertilizer, bug sprays, potting soil, etc.) and stock them up so you can maximize the fair-weather time in the garden instead of shopping.

  • More when-to-do-what tips: Georges “Pennsylvania month by month gardening” Book

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