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Now is the time to start seedlings

Right now some of you may be starting to look ahead to spring and what opportunities lay ahead. For many of you preparing for a spring garden is on the list. So a question I often get is when can we start planting a spring garden? The answer is very soon. Although you won’t be planting it outside, starting off seeds indoors will provide several benefits in the months ahead. Here are some things to consider.

Q.When can I start planting outdoors?

A.We still have quite a bit of time remaining before we start planting warm season plants outside. Sweet corn shouldn’t be planted until soil temperatures are above 65 degrees. Tomatoes shouldn’t be transplanted until very shortly before the anticipated last frost date unless you are planning to protect them from freezing temperatures. Save eggplant and okra until soil temperatures are above 70 degrees. Therefore if you are planning on starting now I urge you to start off your seeds inside to prepare for these days.

Q.How do you start vegetables as seedlings?

A.There are several advantages to starting vegetable seedlings off indoors during winter months. They are: higher germination rates, increased plant quality, longer growing season, and earlier harvest dates. Some major things to consider if you intend to plant seedlings in the winter and transplant in the spring are seed selection, container size, soil selection, watering and lighting.

I would start by making sure you have well cared-for and quality seeds. Every year people call the extension office that have kept seeds from the previous year’s crops and seem to have low success rates. Seeds must be properly cared for and stored to have any success, therefore I would say it is much easier to simply buy new seeds. If you are planting tomatoes, hybrid seeds are more expensive but they are proven to provide better uniformity, higher yield, and better disease resistance. When planting seeds a good rule of thumb is plant seeds about twice the diameter deep as the seeds are wide.

There are several container options for starting seeds. They include clay pots, plastic pots, cell packs, wooden flats, or peat moss compressed into pots. I would recommend peat moss pots because the container can be directly planted into the ground in the spring.

For seedling it is imperative you use a high quality, good clean soil that is free from disease, insects or weed seeds. You can get this at any of the local garden centers.

Start by watering the soil before sowing seeds. Then once you plant the seeds, in your container inside your home, don’t water until seedlings emerge. Once emerged check for dryness and keep them watered as needed. You do not have to drench them in water, just keep them growing in a good, moist soil.

While inside, young plants do not need to be in full sun until the seeds emerge. However, once the seedlings emerge, full sun should be made available. If you can place containers in a south-facing window, no supplemental lighting is necessary. Just remember to rotate the seedling container as the seedlings grow to keep them growing straight as they will tend to bend toward the sunlight otherwise.

Now just wait for the proper outdoor soil temperatures and transplant outside. If done properly you will be weeks ahead of your neighbors when you start pulling your first vegetables off the plant.

David Carter is director of the Adams County Extension Service. He can be reached at 601-445-8201.

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