A guest post by Marlene Wallace
In many parts of the country, it has been a very long winter with lots of snow, ice and frigid temperatures, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start thinking about how you are going to make your garden more beautiful than last year. Though the traditional gardening season does not start until April or May, there are many preparations that can be accomplished both indoors and outdoors while the ground is still frozen.
Nine Essential Steps for Starting Seeds Indoors:
The secret to successfully starting plants from seeds is timing. Do not start too late or too early. If a seed pack indicates that the seeds should be started four to six weeks before the last frost, go for the lesser time frame. If seeds are sown indoors too early, the plants will end up gangly and overgrown before they even get transplanted into the ground.
Choose seeds: Beginner gardeners should probably start with either vegetables or annuals. These types of seeds are the easiest to get to germinate. Perennials can be a bit trickier!
Find appropriate containers: Seed starting kits are available at gardening centers and hardware stores. They contain everything needed to begin the process including cell packs and a plastic tray with lid. If last year’s pots are being recycled, wash them well with water, soap and a bit of bleach (make sure to rinse them out thoroughly or else all additional efforts will be fruitless). Make sure the containers have good drainage holes in the bottom. Label the pots in order to keep seed varieties straight as they grow.
Planting medium: Fresh, sterile seed-sowing medium should be used. This is also available where other gardening supplies are sold.
Follow directions: Always follow the seed packet directions exactly regarding lighting, timing, depth of sowing as well as ideal indoor germinating and growing temperatures.
Keep in Moisture: Freshly sown seeds should be lightly watered and then covered with a plastic lid. Uncover at the first signs of sprouting.
Water: If the top of the soil looks dry, carefully water the pot with a fine spray. Do not overwater as this can cause fungus growth and kill young seedlings.
Lighting: While natural window lighting does work, florescent alternatives work the best. Place trays three to four inches from the source, which should be turned on for 16 hours and then left off for eight hours.
Fertilizer: Wait until seedlings have two sets of “true” leaves, then feed with half-strength 20-20-20 fertilizer weekly. Use full-strength after a few weeks.
Planting Out: Before plants are transplanted into the ground, they need to be “hardened off”. When the threat of frost is past, place tender plants outdoors in a sheltered, shady area. Start by leaving them out for half a day, gradually working up to all day and placing them in sunnier, windier areas.
Preparing Beds and Soil for Spring:
Clean up: Ideally, dead annuals should be pulled out in autumn and put into a garden composter. Spent perennials, on the other hand, can be cut back in autumn or they can be left until early spring if you enjoy seeing the different textures/colors peeking out through the Winter snow. Just make sure that all dead plants, leaves, twigs, braches and weeds are removed by mid-March to make things easier later on in the season.
Prepare soil: Ideal gardening soil needs to have excellent fertility,aeration and drainage so that plants can get necessary nutrients, air and water. Add rotted manure, compost or other organic matter (e.g. rotten leaves, etc.) to flower beds. Spread a 1.5 to 2 inch layer of material evenly over the entire garden area. Gently work it into the soil using a gardening fork.
Eight “Must-Have” Gardening Tools:
Get all tools out well in advance to make sure they are still in good working condition and clean up any that need it. Many of the essential garden accessories can be found here.
Here is a list of eight essential gardening tools that every beginner, intermediate or advanced gardener should have in their tool shed:
Short Handled Light Weight Spade: digging, lifting, edging and/or dividing.
Trowel: measuring, cultivating, spreading soil and transplanting plants. Telescopic handles are available for those with back and/or mobility issues.
Bucket: moving plants and soil, harvesting plants, weeding, storage, transporting water etc.
Short Handled Garden Fork: composting, aerating and cultivating soil as well as transplanting plants.
Garden Knife: digging, dividing, cutting, weeding and plant removal.
Watering Can(s): available in different sizes and materials towater and fertilize plants and soil.
Hand Pruners: harvesting plants, controlling plant size and disease, promoting growth and repairing any damage. Buy a good quality pair as they can last forever with proper cleaning and sharpening.
Gloves: protect hands and fingers from possible blisters, injuries, bacteria, fungus, etc. Good gardening gloves should be made of breathable material and have reinforced palms.
Now that you know what to do and the equipment that you need, don’t wait until the last minute to start preparing your garden. In order to get people to stop and admire the hard work that you have put into your garden, you need to start now!