Starting Seeds Indoors

Starting Seeds Indoors Blog

We are now getting to the time of year where we can begin starting seeds indoors for transplants later this spring. Late February into March is the time of the year when transplants can be started inside our homes, spring will come eventually. Growing transplants from seed takes more work than just buying transplants, but purchasing seed rather than plants is less expensive and you are able to get the varieties you really want rather than just what is available in the nurseries.

It is best to wait until Mother’s Day to plant transplants of warm season crops into the garden. It takes about 8 weeks to grow tomatoes and peppers from seed, so count backward from Mother’s Day to determine when to start the plants indoors. Since Mother’s Day this year is on May 13th, the time to start tomatoes and peppers would be the middle of March. Don’t start your transplants too early or they will get too tall and spindly.

Good transplants begin with good care. Start with good quality seed and a sterile soil or soil-less mixture. For growing media, you can use a potting soil, or a soil-less mixture that contains vermiculite, perlite, and/or peat moss. Just make sure that the growing media is well-drained and has been moistened prior to planting into.

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You can start the seeds in seed trays or other types of containers. You can reuse pots or seed trays from previous years, just make sure all equipment has been cleaned thoroughly prior to reuse. To clean the pots, wash them in soap and then soak them for 10 minutes in a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. There are a lot of other, less expensive, materials that can be used to start seeds in. Newspapers can be reused to make a planting pot, look for methods of how to fold them online. You can also use paper or plastic cups, small yogurt, sour cream, or cottage cheese containers, soda or water bottles with the top cut off and small milk cartons. Just make sure that you make a few drainage holes in the bottom of these containers. If the container doesn’t have a drainage hole in it, the soil will not drain properly causing problems, including death, for your seedlings.

Transplants need to be grown in favorable environmental conditions. Plants should be grown in temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees. Too cold or too warm can reduce the rate of germination or the plants may grow leggy or improperly. Seedlings need 12-16 hours of light per day. This light should be kept about 1 inch above the plants, as they grow, this light should be moved up with the seedlings.  This light source can be as simple and inexpensive as a utility light or shop light with one cool and one warm fluorescent bulb. Fertilization can be applied weekly with a one-quarter strength, soluble fertilizer. Do not fertilize the seedlings if they were allowed to dry out. Replenish the moisture in the plants prior to applying fertilizer to avoid burning the seedlings.

Two weeks prior to planting outdoors in the garden, you will need to prepare the plants to outdoor conditions, this transition is called hardening off. Move the plants outdoors in the shade on non-windy days. Start out by placing the plants in sun for only an hour or two, gradually increase the length of time they are in the sun and the intensity of that sun. Be sure to still bring the plants indoors at night, especially if a frost is predicted. Also, keep them out of direct wind until they have hardened off.

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Correct Timing for Spring Yardwork

Lilac- Glenn Kraeck, Flickr

Flickr image courtesy of Glenn Kraeck per CC license

It has been exceptionally warm so far this year. We haven’t had a lot of snow events yet and the weather has already hit the 70’s on multiple occasions. However, it is still too early to go out and do too much to your gardens, we could still face rather cold temperatures and possibly even snowy conditions yet this spring. So, I wanted to take the time to go over when the best time for garden preparations should begin.

2014-03-04 11.18.22Vegetable gardens are always a favorite of mine in the spring and summer for delicious homegrown crops. Potatoes and Peas can be planted in late March to early April. Other cool season crops should be planted in early to mid-April. We can start seeds for transplants for summer crops at this time. Begin seedlings 10 weeks prior to transplanting for slow growing plants such as broccoli, lettuce, and cabbage. Allow for 6-7 weeks of growth for new seedlings prior to transplanting for plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. And you only need to plant those fast growing species such as cucumbers, squash, and the melons 2-3 weeks in advance of transplanting. Remember, transplanting should occur no sooner than mother’s day, which is May 8th this year.

Turf can be overseeded or reseeded from the end of March through the beginning of April. We still need to wait until then to overseed, because with this early warm weather it may cause some to germinate and cold night temperatures could kill those young plants. Be sure that you are buying certified weed free seed. The best grass choices for eastern Nebraska are either 100% tall fescue, 90% tall fescue with 10% Kentucky bluegrass, 100% Kentucky bluegrass, or 100% buffalograss as a warm season grass choice. Mixes are fine to use in Nebraska, but you want to make sure it is a good mix. If you purchase a mix, avoid any that contain annual bluegrass, ‘Linn’ perennial ryegrass, or ‘Kenblue’ Kentucky bluegrass. Crabgrass preventer should not be applied until later April when the soil temperatures have warmed up. Don’t use crabgrass preventer on newly seeded lawns until you have mowed 3 times on the newly seeded grass.

Wait to uncover your perennials this spring. The mulch applied around the perennials in the winter is not meant to keep the plants warm, it is meant to keep the plants at a uniform temperature throughout the growing season. If you leave the mulch on in these warm days, this will help to keep your plants cold, and therefore, help them maintain their dormancy. The same goes with roses that were placed under rose cones in the fall. Leave those cones on as long as you can.

apples-A. Henneman flickr

Flickr image courtesy of Alice Henneman per CC license

We may have plants that break dormancy early with all of these warm temperatures. This may cause some dieback on the branches or stems and most likely these plants will survive. The bigger problem will be with plants that fruit such as strawberries or fruit trees. If these plants break dormancy and start to bud their buds may be damaged by a freeze event and then the plants will not produce fruit. Fruit trees cannot be discouraged from this occurrence, which is why we often have problems with low or no fruit on peaches and apricots with a late freeze event.

 

Spring Preparations for Lawn and Garden

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We have finally reached March, and the beginning of spring is right around the corner. We don’t want to get out and do too many things in our yards and gardens too early in the year, but there are some things to bring you out of cabin fever. Here is a listing of our usually spring activities and when the best time to do them would be.

We can now begin to start our seeds indoors for transplants into our gardens later in the spring. Remember, we want to wait until Mother’s Day to plant most of our vegetables outside, unless they are cool season crops. You should start things like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and head lettuce indoors about 10 weeks prior to transplanting outside. Other plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants can be started indoors 6-7 weeks in advance of planting outdoors. Vegetables such as watermelons, cantaloupe, cucumbers, zucchini, squash, and beans should be planted from seed directly into the garden in May. Peas and other cool season vegetables can be planted in the middle to the end of March. The saying is that you can plant your peas and potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day, or some say Good Friday. Either day would be fine to plant your peas and potatoes from the middle to the end of March.

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Roses can also be pruned back at this time of the year. The best time to prune roses is February to March or in early spring. When you prune your roses, start by removing all the dead, diseased, or damaged branches.   If it is a dead or diseased branch, cut back at least one inch below the dead area and above a live bud. If there are no live buds, cut the entire cane out. After that, you should prune up to one-third of the older branches and canes.

Other types of shrubs can be pruned next month, in April. Things such as honeysuckle, ninebark, barberry, and burning bush should be pruned in the early spring. To prune these types of shrubs, we should cut out the older canes and ones that are dead. As with roses, we need to make sure that we are only cutting out one third of the plant. If it is a plant that blooms in the spring, such as forsythia, lilac and spring-blooming spirea, we should wait to prune it until just after it has flowered.

Turf can be overseeded or reseeded from the end of March through the beginning of April. Be sure that you are buying certified weed free seed. The best grass choices for eastern Nebraska are either 100% tall fescue, 90% tall fescue with 10% Kentucky bluegrass, 100% Kentucky bluegrass, or 100% buffalograss. Mixes are alright to use in Nebraska, but you want to make sure it is a good mix. If you purchase a mix, avoid any that contain annual bluegrass, ‘Linn’ perennial ryegrass, or ‘Kenblue’ Kentucky bluegrass. After you have mowed one time on the new seed, you can then put your crabgrass pre-emergent herbicide down to control crabgrass for the year. Wait to use 2,4-D products on your newly seeded lawn areas until after you have mowed at least three times on the new turf.